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Hyperion Records

CDH55080 - Mozart & Krommer: Oboe Concertos
(Originally issued on CDA66411)

Recording details: June 1990
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 2001
Total duration: 60 minutes 18 seconds

'Garnished with a Mozartian eloquence and eliciting from Francis her creamiest sounds…' (BBC Music Magazine)

Mozart & Krommer: Oboe Concertos
Allegro aperto  [6'59]
Allegro  [11'06]
Adagio  [4'42]
Rondo: Allegro  [6'20]
Allegro  [9'36]
Adagio  [4'52]
Rondo  [5'02]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Once the solo concerto had been established early in the eighteenth century it attracted works for every conceivable melody instrument and gave artists the opportunity to display their musicianship in the fast growing sphere of the public concert. Unfortunately, a given artist could not always locate a suitable work for his instrument, and it became necessary for him to ‘borrow’ one intended for another instrument and adapt it, or have it adapted, for his own. Vivaldi made many such arrangements of his own works (oboe to bassoon; chamber group to flute and strings, etc.), and C P E Bach and at least one of his colleagues adapted some of his harpsichord concertos for flute or oboe or cello. Franz Krommer took a flute concerto and the present Oboe Concerto (Op 52) and arranged them for clarinet. Such reworking has usually necessitated adjustments to the basic orchestral parts; sadly, this, and the transition from one solo instrument to another, has not always been carried out expertly.

The history of Mozart’s Oboe Concerto, one of his most frank and charming middle-period works, is obscure: little can be taken for granted and what is known is hedged about with ifs and buts. However we do know for a fact that on 1 April 1777 Giuseppe Ferlendis, an Italian oboist, arrived in Salzburg to take up his position in the court orchestra. Some time that year Mozart wrote an oboe concerto for Ferlendis, and despite his retaining the work when he travelled to Mannheim, where Friedrich Ramm played it so often that Mozart referred to it as ‘Ramm’s battle-horse’, Mozart never gave enough indication to identify the work unambiguously. He never even referred to its key. During the 1780s he sent a copy of the work to Anton Mayer, an oboist at Esterházy. Apparently his copy has not survived.

While in Mannheim, Mozart received a commission from a Dutch merchant whom he called de Jean (possibly Dechamps or Deschamps) for three little flute concertos and some flute quartets. Since Mozart disliked composing for the flute he found the commission onerous; in fact, only two of the three concertos were delivered to de Jean, and he lost them!

Our final fact concerns the rediscovery of the Oboe Concerto. The composer and musicologist Dr Bernhard Paumgartner claimed to have come across parts for an Oboe Concerto in C ‘del Sigre W A Mozart’ whilst working in the archives of the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1920. Despite his statement that these parts ‘according to the paper and writing, must have been made in Vienna in the eighteenth century’, Paumgartner avers that this is the concerto Mozart composed for Ferlendis in 1777 in Salzburg, 150 miles away.

Turning to our own conjectures, we may assume that Mozart, having composed one new work, the Flute Concerto in G, K313, and feeling disinclined to squander his efforts on another, took the ‘Ferlendis’ oboe concerto and reworked it for flute to fulfil de Jean’s commission. Dr Paumgartner doubtless found an oboe concerto in Salzburg, but its solo part differs in many details from that of the Flute Concerto in D, K314. Furthermore, those differences appear to put the oboe version at a remove from Mozart’s style. Was the oboe part tampered with either before or—dare one suggest it?—after Paumgartner discovered it?

Sarah Francis, the soloist on this record, is not the first to voice dissatisfaction with this oboe part. She has compared it with the flute version and made a number of alterations, taking the flute part in preference where it seemed closer to Mozart’s style. Her amendments have the effect of changing the line so that awkward triplets become fluent semiquavers, the unsatisfactory bars in the oboe version immediately before the cadenza of the first movement have been replaced by the much more Mozartean version in the Flute Concerto; in the finale a high A in bar 116 is lowered an octave to agree with bar 118 and the string phrase in bars 45, 47, 233 and 235, phrasing has been made consistent in parallel passages (notably in the upbeat to the theme of the finale) and the second movement is taken at Andante rather than the, for Mozart, uncharacteristic marking ‘Adagio non troppo’. Miss Francis plays her own cadenzas and adds an extra small cadenza at bar 123 in the finale, where Mozart’s fermata invites the soloist to make some slight preparation for the return of the Rondo theme.

Franz Vinzenz Krommer has been sorely neglected by posterity largely because of the eminence of his contemporaries. Widely respected in his lifetime, he was given honorary membership of musical seats of learning in Austria, France, Italy and Yugoslavia, and his many compositions achieved notable popularity. He composed nine symphonies (one lost), nine violin concertos, many other concerted works, and a vast amount of chamber music. His string quartets alone number eighty, a total exceeding Haydn’s, and some were considered to be of a quality to rival Beethoven’s. It is Beethoven, and to a lesser extent Mozart, whom we must thank for Krommer’s relative obscurity today, genius, as ever, being the enemy of mastery.

Born Frantisek Vincenc Kramár in Kamenice u Trebíce in 1759, the year of Handel’s death, Krommer abandoned his Bohemian name and adopted the more wieldy form after he moved to Vienna in 1795. Earlier, he had worked as a violinist and organist in Hungary, but most of his career was spent in Vienna where, from 1818 until his death in 1831, he was court composer to the Habsburg emperors, the last composer to hold that post. He was a friendly man, uninterested in intrigue and content to jog along in his secluded existence writing quartets to fulfil a steadily increasing demand. He was 34 before any of his works was published; doubtless the numerous publications which followed (Krommer’s opus numbers reach 110, of which André of Offenbach alone brought out fifty in thirty years) contained early works which found a ready market audience amongst listeners for whom Beethoven’s music was too progressive. Mozart’s was considered more ‘civilised’, more ‘proper’, and Krommer’s music, advancing along a similar path, was therefore more acceptable. The publication dates of the two oboe concertos, Op 37 in 1803 and Op 52 in 1805, offer little clue as to when they were composed.

Whereas Mozart in his concerto called for a smallish orchestra of pairs of oboes and horns with the strings, Krommer adds flute, bassoons, trumpets and timpani to both of his, yet with Krommer the orchestra builds an attractive framework for the solo episodes but, except in the slow movements, is content to provide rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment with minimal involvement in the musical argument. The later concerto shows an advance over Op 37 in this respect, and the orchestral tuttis in the first movement have a force reminiscent of Beethoven. Had Krommer ever composed an opera one feels that it might have contained a tragic aria similar to the Adagio of Op 52. Each concerto closes with a Rondo rich in contrasts and joyful melody.

Robert Dearling © 1990

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