Raymond J Walker
, November 2009
German composer, Joseph Kraus, born at Miltenberg, grew up in Buchen, 20 km away, in a small country town lying between Frankfurt and Stuttgart. He was provided with a good grounding in musical education from the age of 12 by members of the Mannheim Kapelle for five years. Perhaps his years of university days at Mainz were wasted in studying Philosophy and Law rather than music.
His route into a professional musical career began in Sweden at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. There his opera, Proserpin, gained him recognition by the Court of Gustavus III and a post of assistant kapellemästare at the Royal Opera. It is for his operas that today he is largely remembered. This is a pity because the elegance of his symphonic writing points to inspiration and skill.
In his notes, F.W. Riedel tells us that these Symphonies were composed between 1780 and 1792 when in Stockholm. In them Kraus made a valuable contribution to the ‘grand symphony’ where musical structure is deepened and intensified to meet the needs of the concert hall. Kraus admitted that he was influenced by Gluck, yet his music stands equal in rank alongside Mozart and Haydn even though it is not well known. The varied colour of the symphonic writing could be attributed to the fact that King Gustavus sent Kraus on a four year European tour to meet academy professors of Germany, Austria, and Italy, where had the opportunity of meeting his beloved Gluck and Haydn.
The readings are energetic and bright and this set is clearly a benchmark recording. To my ears the sprightly tempi adds to the impact and charm that the florid writing possesses. Clearly, Kraus was a proficient and romantically sensitive composer, using rich combinations of orchestral sections to create colourful textures and moods. The spirited Allegro to the Symphony in C major is delightful and is played with deserving elegance. The ethereal setting of the chorale of the Symphony funèbre is eerily moving and successfully conveys an appropriate mood. Only in one instance—the Andante of Symphony in C minor—do I find that the pace under Ehrhardt’s direction is taken too slowly, and uncomfortably gives a heavy, ploddish feel to the movement.
A rich acoustic of the 1991/2 recording at the Kempen Kulturforum adds radiance to the music. In the Allegro of the Symphony in D major, however, there are a few occasional distant bangs or coughs, which although nearly lost in the acoustic are nevertheless noticeable.
The notes are provided in English, German and French.