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Sigismund Ritter von NEUKOMM (1778-1858)
Nonetto NV513 in E flat [7:39]
Septuor concertant NV399 in E flat [7:44]
Notturno NV154 in C [11:51]
Otteto NV421 in E flat [10:15]
Quintetto NV105 in C [9:20]
Septetto No. 3 NV517 in E flat [7:54]
Kammerensemble Classic der Deutschen Oper Berlin
rec. 10-13 May 2010, Studio Gärtnerstrasse, Berlin
CPO 777 621-2 [54:43]


 
Sigismund Ritter von Neukomm was a student of Haydn’s who traveled across both hemispheres writing and performing his music. Neukomm's compositions showed that Haydn had taught him how to be pleasant but not how to be interesting. He was fascinated by weird combinations of instruments, as we learn here. This is an album of fun - unlikely groups of performers playing dull, dull music.
 
Take the opening Nonetto. It feels in spirit like a minuet that somehow grew thematic development. It retains interest simply by making you wonder: what instrument’s up next? There are big solos for flute, clarinet, viola and bassoon; a double bass has a major part too. The trumpet is used the way it was in the mid-1700s, to emphasize certain points made by other instruments, until it wins a sudden cadenza at the end.
 
Once you realize that antiquated good cheer, the kind that Haydn outgrew and Rossini outclassed, is Neukomm’s bread and butter, the rest of the CD all sounds the same. The Notturno starts with a piano solo which sounds like very, very early Beethoven - it was written in 1817 in, of all places, Rio de Janeiro. The Octet begins with an unintentionally funny combination of grandiosity and total unimportance, although I must compliment the following cello solo.
 
Everything runs together, with one exception: the first 30 seconds of the Quintet are energetic, exciting, and vaguely Latinate in rhythm, with a prominent harp, so I was scrambling to the booklet notes to tell you about this one undiscovered gem before, just as suddenly as the party had started, it withdrew into a harmlessly cheery tune that the booklet tells me is “practically identical” to a piece by another, earlier composer. So much for that!
 
It’s very well-played, and the recorded sound is very good too - the trumpet never dominates the other instruments - but this is only for those who already know they are devotees of late-classical-era chamber music with no dramatic pulse. While listening to the Notturno, I had a thought: if someone said to me, “classical music is so boring,” and I played them this CD, they would say “I told you so”.
 
Brian Reinhart