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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Johann Wenzel KALLIWODA (1801-1866)
Symphony No. 5 in B minor, op. 106 (1840) [27:44]
Symphony No. 7 in G minor, WoO/01 (1841) [28:50]
Overture No. 16 in A minor, op. 238 (1863) [11:42]
Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering
rec. Köln, November 15-18, 2004
CPO 777 139-2 [68:29]


The Prague-born composer Johann Kalliwoda was completely unknown to me until recently, when his existence was revealed in a review of another recording by my colleague Jonathan Woolf (see review ). I dare say many of you reading this will have been in the same situation. Jonathan’s review was quite favourable, and as someone interested in the byways and side-roads of classical music, I was tempted, but the works didn’t sufficiently appeal to make me order the disc. That decision, as this review will make clear, will change.

A few weeks later I read a review of this recording on another classical CD review website. This time, the review was overflowing with superlatives and I thought "I have a friend who is interested in this era of music – I’ll buy it for him for his birthday and borrow it from him later". Well, the disc arrived, and his birthday was still a few weeks away – I yielded to temptation and listened. Big mistake! Now I have to buy another copy of it because the first one won’t be leaving my collection.

The cpo label is rapidly becoming my label of discovery – in the last couple of years, it has introduced me to the symphonies of Villa-Lobos, Atterburg, Peterson-Berger and Wirén and now Johann Kalliwoda. Who have they waiting in the wings for me next, I wonder?

Born in Prague just four years after Schubert, Kalliwoda spent much of his working life as court musical director for Prince Carl Egon II in Donaueschingen, a city in southwest Baden-Württemberg surrounded by the Black Forest. Along with his composing and teaching duties, he was conductor of the court orchestra, and in that role, led many performances of the works of Beethoven. They clearly left an indelible impression. He was a friend of Liszt and the Schumanns, Robert championing his cause in his musical journal.

The shadow of Beethoven loomed large in the mind of any composer wanting to write symphonies in the middle of the 19th century. These two symphonies of Kalliwoda unquestionably have Beethoven’s influence writ large throughout, especially No. 5, which is actually the later of the two on this disc, despite the numbering. At times, Kalliwoda’s melodic invention approach that of Schubert – I have no evidence to indicate whether he would have known the music of his near-contemporary. The scurrying lightness of the scherzos bring Mendelssohn to mind, and there are definite folk elements which make you think of his countryman Dvorak.

Symphony No. 5 begins with a defiant, but uneasy brass and timpani fanfare which is reminiscent of the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth symphony, and returns to punctuate the whole first movement. This quickly fades into a slow introduction begun by the strings and carried forward by the woodwinds; and extraordinarily, the connection to Tchaikovsky 4 is heard again, this time a clarinet melody which is so similar to the theme that begins the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky; remember that Tchaikovsky 4 was written more than 35 years later. Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not for a moment proposing that Tchaikovsky borrowed from or even knew of the existence of Kalliwoda. However, I am suggesting that Kalliwoda is much more than a second-grade Beethoven clone: his music shows he absorbed the lessons of the past into his own voice and found new ways of expressing his musical ideas.

The second movement Scherzo has a absolutely beautiful cantabile melody throughout, interspersed with outbursts of the opening fanfare, while the Trio is appropriately peasant-like with a droning horn call. As the tempo indication implies, the third movement Allegretto grazioso is not really a slow movement; rather it is an extension of the lyrical elements of the Scherzo.

The rondo finale starts in rousing fashion, reminiscent in its driving nature of the finale of Beethoven 7, with a statement of the rondo theme in the brass. It is then taken up by the strings, quietly at first and then bursting forth with the whole orchestra, before it is the turn of the woodwinds to sing it out. What a memorable theme it is: I’m sure you will find yourself humming it, as I have been doing. The pace slows for a few minutes as the theme is played with, before the strings start an insistent beat, pushing the movement towards its thrilling and triumphant conclusion.

Symphony No. 7 is dominated across its four movements by a "struggle" between heroic and playful moods - if you wanted a simplistic view of this, you might see it as Beethoven vs Mendelssohn. In each movement, the two moods alternate in quite rapidly succession, so the overall effect is that of a giant four-section rondo. Formally, this probably makes the symphony somewhat over-simplistic, but when the melodies and rhythms are so delightful and so interesting, only the most inflexible would not be won over.

It begins in a way that Haydn would have recognised – adagio and pianissimo – interrupted briefly by a threatening Wagnerian outburst in the brass. The principal theme is held back for almost four minutes, and is preceded by a rising theme that begins at the low end of the cello register, and taken higher by the flute, before the violins carry it to the peak. Kalliwoda presents us with two very short themes of equal importance, a martial timpani-driven motto representing the heroic and a lyrical but syncopated melody for the playful. The development of these in alternation then occupies the remainder of the movement, which in itself dominates the symphony time-wise (over 13 minutes from a total of 28). The remaining movements carry on with the alternating moods in their different ways: the scherzo humorous and bucolic, the adagio a mostly solemn march and the finale breathless and eventually the inevitable triumph of the heroic.

Overture No. 16, written twenty years after the two symphonies on this disc, shows a definite development in his music. The presence of Beethoven is less obvious now, though unquestionably still there - particularly at the end. History doesn’t record the occasion for which it was written (or even if there was one), so just sit back and enjoy it. It seems, even in 1863, to summarise what orchestral music in the 1800s was all about, even that which was yet to come.

I find it difficult to judge the performances in works that I have never heard before, but I feel safe in stating that I could not have been so bowled over by this music had Das Neue Orchester and Christoph Spering not played their part. The orchestra is a small one (around forty players) employing authentic instruments: this is not always a positive for me in music of this era, but I have absolutely no complaints about over-cooked tempi, harsh strings or burbling horns here. Everything and everyone sounds just right.

I hope I haven’t overdone the superlatives. Music like this deserves to be heard, not just by collectors who thrive on new names, but anyone who enjoys great music. It may only be September, but this is unquestionably my discovery of the year and my disc of the year.

David J Barker

 


 



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