Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, January 2008

The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra employs a vibratoless tone, which is carefully contradicted by a warmly reverberant sonic environment. The result is sleek and handsome, if just occasionally compromised by so much emphasis on a penultimate dominant chord as to drown the tonic cadence. Kudos to their artistic director, Aapo Häkkinen, for choosing sensible performing tempos that mirror their score designations, so that nothing is wildly manic or lugubrious. The slow movements are especially varied and rich in character, with the Helsinki musicians allowing full play to their rich harmonic palette and theatrical character. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, December 2007

As I was driving to school a few weeks ago, for some singular reason I put Classic FM on the radio and found myself listening to a piece I did not really recognize. It reminded me a little of Vivaldi with its insistence on sequences. It had a driving rhythm but also had a seriousness of purpose especially in its earnest, fugal counterpoint which seemed to be rather Germanic. Simon Bates then announced that it was the first movement from Richter’s 1st Sinfonia; a disc he has “just recently discovered”. I then realized that I did have some recognition of this piece because I had already started to listen to the CD in preparing for this review.

I was then encouraged to read a quote in the accompanying booklet notes by Allan Badley. It was from Dr. Charles Burney, the musicologist (1726-1814) whose entire book I would love to get hold of. This said that Burney had criticized Richter who “occasionally weakened his melodic lines by over-use of the sequence” but praised “his inventive if conservative approach to thematic construction”. Vivaldi was inordinately fond of sequential repetition and Richter can be also. You can hear this in the first movement of Sinfonia III, however these sequences never jar. They are never over-done and successfully lead the music through its structure.

Joseph Haydn is often called ‘The Father of the Symphony’ as he composed at least 104 of them by 1800. However, it’s interesting to consider that when Haydn was just three years old Richter had already composed at least 64. That is unless I have misunderstood the numbering which here ranges from 13 to 64.

Richter writes only for strings. His works date from before the full advent of the ‘Mannheim School’ under Johann Stamitz (1771-1757) which took Europe and Mozart and Haydn by storm a few years later. Richter was not a part of that school but his music has the passion, drama and drive associated with Stamitz most of whose symphonies date from c.1750. Richter’s first movements are clearly in what we now call sonata-form or, as it was called then, ‘first movement form’. Like Stamitz’s early symphonies Richter normally has three movements, with a slow middle one. This may be very short or more likely a still and thoughtful melody over simple harmonies. Only in the Sinfonia VI does Richter diverge from that, with an Andante which is rather too similar in tempo and material to the preceding Allegro ma non presto. The performers are, I am sure, only doing what they think Richter intended.

Movement 3 is often fast and short. Sinfonia III ends with a very brief Minuet. Sinfonia VI ends with an even briefer one at 1.44. This latter work is curious in that it opens, uniquely with a pompous slow introduction which although separately tracked ends on the dominant. It must therefore be seen as a lead into the ‘Fuga’ which follows. The next movement is an Andante which at almost six minutes seems to outstay its welcome. The finale is a rather unsuccessful and again very brief Minuet. This Sinfonia VI is best seen as an experimental divergence from formal layout. It might be interesting to hear more Richter in case he experimented further at a later date.

The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra play on original instruments with passion and clarity, I love their balanced and warm sound but a sound which also has a cutting edge.

Aapo Häkkinen achieves a terrific sense of balance and chooses ideal tempi with the exception of the first two movements in Sinfonia VI. He makes a fine difference between the Spiritoso opening movement of Sinfonia IV and the Presto finale of Sinfonia V. A harpsichord is used as an almost inaudible continuo.

Highlights? Well there are several. The whole of Sinfonia I is gripping and holds ones attention. The same applies to the still slow movement of Sinfonia IV and the memorable melodic invention of the equivalent movement of Sinfonia V. I shouldn’t worry too much; to be honest the whole disc should give much pleasure. I noticed that it’s cheaper than a bottle of fairly average Niersteiner and, ultimately, considerably more fulfilling. Buy it.

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, October 2007

In 1995, New Zealand musicologist Allan Badley and Klaus Heymann of Naxos fame founded Artaria Editions, invoking the name of the eighteenth century Viennese publishing house which had Hadyn and Mozart on its books and signed up rising stars like Clementi and Beethoven. Over the last decade or so, Badley has been sleuthing around Europe to find obscure scores from the early classical period, dusting them off and tidying them up for the publication of performing editions. Meanwhile, Heymann's Naxos has unearthed excellent orchestras, from Toronto, Sweden, New Zealand and elsewhere to record the music. All of this is cause for much rejoicing.

Having given us excellent recordings of the music of Joseph Martin Kraus, Joseph Boulogue, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Wenzel Pichl and others, the series now turns to Franz Xaver Richter. Although the CD booklet does not say so, I am fairly sure that these are premiere recordings. There is a disc devoted to Richter's symphonies in the Chandos ‘Contemporaries of Mozart’ series, but there is no overlap between that disc and this one.

Richter was one of the key figures in the Mannheim school and probably its most conservative member. While his colleagues, like Johann Stamitz, made hay with devices like the ‘Mannheim rocket’ and forged ahead with the new galant style, Richter kept looking over his shoulder at the example of the Baroque masters.

The six sinfonias collected here come from his time as Kapellmeister to the Prince Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldegg in Kempton, Allgau, a few years before he joined the court of the Elector of Mannheim. They confirm his reverence for the Baroque and demonstrate his admirable facility as a composer. Idiomatically this music sits somewhere between that of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, with a touch of Handel's theatrical swagger.

Each of these six sinfonias is beautifully crafted. Though short - the longest of the six plays for not quite 14 minutes - each movement is structurally balanced and in proportion to its companions. The first five of the sinfonias consist of three movements - fast, slow, fast, while the sixth bucks the trend somewhat by splitting the first movement into an introductory adagio and a quick fugal second movement. In fact, there is a contrapuntal flavour to each of these sinfonias. He is no fuddy-duddy, though. There are some wonderfully adventurous harmonic touches in the finale of the fifth sinfonia, and the presto finale of the fourth sinfonia has a Haydnesque wit - though Haydn was only 12 when it was published. Although the third sinfonia is the only one of the six in a minor key, Richter frequently modulates into the minor to spice up each of the sinfonias. The antiphonal interplay between the violins placed right and left is delightful - listen to the first movement of the fifth sinfonia, for example. Richter’s finales are also interesting. The second sinfonia ends in stately contrapuntal splendour and Richter opts, respectively, for a courtly and a danceable minuet to conclude the third and sixth sinfonias, rather than a rattling presto.

This music is charmingly urbane and sophisticated. It is also very well played. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra is a bit of a find. On the evidence of this disc, it is a world class period instrument ensemble. Tuning is immaculate throughout, and phrasing is intelligent and structurally sound. I am looking forward to hearing more from this band.

As so often with these Artaria recordings, Allan Badley provides scholarly and informative liner notes. If you have any interest in "big C" Classical music, you will enjoy this disc.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Franz Xaver Richter was already thirty-one before we have any detailed knowledge of his life, the appearance of his name in 1740 as vice-Kapellmeister in Kempton, Allgau, being the first tangible record of his existence, but it is only when he became a member of the court orchestra in Mannheim that we can follow the progress of his career. He was there listed as a second violinist, though we do know that he arrived in Mannheim with a portfolio of compositions including the ‘Six Grandes Symphonies' included on this disc. From therein he became a highly respected court musician and was to teach several young musicians including Carl Stamitz. His travels took him to England, France and Spain, and slowly he dissociated himself from the faceless virtuosity which he thought was driving true musicianship from the Mannheim orchestra and its roster of composers. He predated Haydn by twenty-three years, yet you can hear Richter in much of Haydn's early symphonies. Indeed you could hold out a case that early Richter was far preferable to early Haydn, particularly if you turn to track 4, the beefy finale to the first Sinfonia. When Richter did produce a catchy tune he certainly knew how to work it, the problem being that he seldom found them and had to rely on the artistry of his writing and his ability to orchestrate. Though he was a reactionary to virtuosity for virtuosity's sake, he still wrote with considerable flair and must have presented a challenge to orchestral musicians. He can also bring much joy to his fast final Rondos, but relied on the charm of Minuets to bring some of his Sinfonia's to a close. In sum a disc that will bring considerable pleasure. It is played by the small Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, a period instrument group formed a decade ago, the playing neat, clean-cut and with security of intonation. It is recorded in a reverberant acoustic and placed at some distance from microphones. Different but ears soon adjust.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group