L'Arte del Mondo / Werner Ehrhardt

Carl Stamitz: Four Symphonies

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Carl Stamitz, son of Mannheim composer Johann Stamitz, toured all over Europe and was a famous figure in the last third of the 18th century, well regarded almost everywhere. The exception was Mozart, who -- probably out of jealousy, as annotator Olaf Krone suggested (the notes are in English, German, and French) -- wrote that Stamitz and his brother Anton were "miserable note scribblers and players -- boozers and whoremongers -- which isn't my kind of people." The Mozartian pique is especially interesting to devotees of Harold Bloom's theory of the anxiety of influence, for the music here, much of it written around 1776 for the Concert Spirituel in Paris, represented exactly what Mozart heard when he arrived in Paris, and typified the scene he tried mostly unsuccessfully to break into. The Concert Spirituel series, held at the Tuilieries palace, could boast, like the Mannheim court but unlike Vienna, of substantial orchestral resources. Mozart's Symphony No. 31 in D major, K. 297 ("Paris"), was, according to contemporary testimony, performed by an orchestra of 22 violins, six violas, eight cellos, and six double basses, along with doubled winds and perhaps even four bassoons. The 13 string players of the German early music group L'arte del mondo can't hope to match the sound that was intended. Why is it that historically informed musicians who split hairs over bow hairs feel free to ignore the fact that in many settings, Classical-period music called for as large an orchestra as could be mustered? However, conductor Werner Ehrhardt does his best with what he has, crafting vigorous interpretations that showcase the considerable imagination of these pieces and their composers. The two most interesting works are the two in minor keys, published as part of Stamitz's Op. 15 in 1776. They are strikingly powerful, serious works, seemingly influenced by the north German Sturm und Drang style that was in the air at the time; hear especially the putative Minuet of the Symphony in E minor, Op. 15/2, Kai. 23 (track 9), which is a clear ancestor of the Beethovenian scherzo with its abrupt tone and jarring contrast between minuet and trio. But all four works are compact, colorful, and loaded with good tunes and well worth reviving. Sound, sometimes a problem with the CPO label, is fine. Recommended for lovers of the Classical symphony.

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