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Georg Hendrik WITTE (1843-1929)
Piano Quartet op.5 [38:05]
Quintet for horn and string quartet, op. post. [29:12]
Mozart Piano Quartet (Mark Gothoni (violin), Hartmut Rohde (viola), Peter Hörr (cello), Paul Ravinius (piano))
Radovan Vlatkovic (horn)
Cornelia Gartemann (violin)
rec. 2017, Konzerthaus der Abtei, Marienmünster, Germany
Reviewed in CD stereo
MDG 943 2046-6 SACD [69:58]

The value of this release lies in the fact that, as far as I know, this is the only CD exclusively featuring the music of Utrecht born composer Georg Hendrik Witte. He was the son of organ builder Christian Gottlieb Witte. His early musical studies in violin, piano, organ and composition took place at the Royal Dutch Conservatory in the Hague, which he entered at the age of sixteen. He then moved to the Leipzig Conservatory, where he became a student of Ignaz Moscheles and Carl Reinecke for piano, and Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Friedrich Richter for composition. He later gravitated towards Germany, becoming Music Director of the city of Essen, serving as conductor of its orchestra and choral society. His compositional output, aside from these two chamber works, includes the hymn An die Sonne for choir, soloists and orchestra, a couple of concertos for violin and cello, some piano music and a scattering of songs.

The two chamber works featured date from Witte’s time in Leipzig, so are both relatively early compositions. I couldn’t find any more accurate dating than that. The Piano Quartet was published as Op. 5, and became available in print in 1867. The Horn Quintet remained unpublished during the composer’s lifetime. The works are generously gifted with beguiling charm and lyricism and, having listened to the CD two or three times, I detected influences of Mendelssohn and Schumann.

The four-movement Piano Quartet sits midway between between Mendelssohn and Schumann. It’s a cheery and optimistic work, guaranteed to lift the spirits. It recalled to mind the Piano Quintet of Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929); significantly the two composers were exact contemporaries. The second movement is the least successful, since it seems to lose direction and inspiration along the way. The Scherzo could have been composed by Schumann, such is the influence. The Mozart Piano Quartet’s enthusiasm and commitment, however, carry the day.

The Horn Quintet in E flat is cast in three movements. The manuscript was sent by the composer to Brahms for appraisal. The elder composer remarked on the horn’s lack of “independent and soloistic treatment”. The criticism refers to the first movement, where the horn seems to take something of a back seat. Yet, I felt that throughout, Witte could have profiled the horn more prominently. There are occasions when it seems swamped by the dense string texture. Perhaps the engineers could have given the instrument more forward prominence in the sound picture to compensate for its, at times, rather timid role. Having said this, the composer treats the listener to a wealth of melodic material. The animated, upbeat finale is an absolute delight.

I have nothing but praise for MDG and all the artists concerned for making these delightful performances available. The sound quality of this SACD is second to none, and the accompanying liner notes succeed admirably in providing helpful background. I hope the label will record more of the music of this sadly neglected composer, perhaps the two concertos, or the hymn An die Sonne.

Stephen Greenbank



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