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Carla Rees
MusicWeb International, July 2011

Johann Stamitz was a respected violinist, as well as being a composer and conductor. He is probably best known for his association with the famous orchestra in Mannheim, where he was employed from 1741 and developed a career that began as a violinist and worked through various positions, including as the first director of instrumental music, finally to become Kapellmeister. As a composer, he is associated with the development of the symphony and of orchestral technique which was an integral part of the Mannheim legacy. His sons, Carl and Anton both became well known composers.

This disc contains four of his fourteen flute concertos, composed for the players of the Mannheim Orchestra, most notably Johann Baptist Wendling, who later became associated with Mozart. The concertos are excellent examples of late baroque style, and the transition to the classical era. The orchestral writing demonstrates the resources available in Mannheim at the time. The flute parts are technically demanding and full of agile semiquaver runs, all of which are flawlessly executed. This virtuosity can also be heard in the orchestral parts, as the opening of the C major concerto demonstrates, with light triplet figures and trills infusing the extended introduction.

Each of the concertos has a distinct character, with bright fast movements and expressive central adagios. Sequences and repeated phrases are featured throughout, and well placed ornamentation adds to the florid nature of the melodic lines. There are some wonderful examples of this in the last movement of the C major concerto. Stamitz’s orchestration creates a rich string sound, with a relatively heavy bass line and additional colour and melodic interest provided by horns.

The first movement of the second D major concerto on the disc has distinct parallels with the D major flute concerto which is attributed to Haydn, including the opening melodic motif. There is an elegance of style within the rhythmic writing which gives a sense of poise to the music, especially in the three beats in a bar finale.

The playing in this recording is generally good. Robert Aitken is an able soloist who displays good technical control throughout. There is some enjoyable phrasing in the slow movements, and his tone quality is pure, sweet and uncomplicated, always serving the music and never sounding forced or over indulged. The fast movements possess a good sense of energy and exuberant display of technique. The orchestra has a rich and well balanced sound, and there is good ensemble playing discipline. The recording has a pleasant amount of reverb, which brings warmth to the overall sound.

Bertil van Boer
Fanfare, March 2010

The Lithuanian St Christopher group provides a precise and understated accompaniment…It is true that the music on this disc is mostly all about the flute and its ability…but if one concentrates upon the remarkable technical display, then one will find a perfect example of what can happen when a composer of this pivotal period pushes the aerobatic envelope of a more reticent and intimate instrument.…Highly recommended.

Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, March 2010

The recording and notes are both satisfactory.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Dave Saemann
Fanfare, March 2010

Robert Aitken…has technique galore and great stylistic acuity and suppleness…Aitken is supported by a very good ensemble, the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra of Vilnius, Lithuania, under its founder, Donatas Katkus. They perform with elegance and tact, and, perhaps intentionally, with not too much vibrato from the strings. Warm and pleasant sound is provided by Naxos’s veteran producer and engineer, Tim Handley…This album is Want List material. I recommend it to anyone who desires to encounter one of the choice spirits of the Age of Enlightenment.

John-Pierre Joyce
MusicWeb International, February 2010

Johann Stamitz is a name well known in musical history, but his voice is seldom heard. This latest Naxos disc of flute concertos—two volumes of symphonies and one of orchestral trios are already available—is therefore a welcome release.

Famous as a virtuoso violinist and then as Kapellmeister of the celebrated Mannheim court orchestra, Stamitz presided over the establishment of that band of players and over the development of what became the ‘Mannheim style’—disciplined playing, thrilling dynamics and innovative instrumentation. He played a key role in developing the symphonic form, and in transforming musical composition from the Baroque style to the nascent Classical sound.

As well as symphonies, Stamitz left behind a large number of concertos, including fourteen for flute. The four featured on this disc probably date from the 1750s and may well have been played by the Elector Carl Theodor, and by Mannheim virtuoso Johann Baptist Wendling, who so impressed Mozart on his visit to Paris in 1763 and Mannheim in 1777–78.

They are beautiful works, but the main problem is that there is little to distinguish one from the other. The two D major concertos in particular sound very much alike, although the horn parts in the second at least differentiate it from it predecessor. The C major concerto’s shift into C minor for the slow Andante offers some tonal variety, while rapid triplet figures for the soloist in the first movement keep the momentum alive.

But one cannot escape the feeling that these works were really vehicles for Wendling’s—or someone else’s—prodigious talents. Attention therefore falls on soloist Robert Aitken. His flawless technique and lightness of touch make him perfectly suited to this kind of repertoire. He is particularly impressive in the hugely demanding cadenzas in each concerto, although his forward positioning in the recording can make the flute sound a little shrill on the ear in some of the higher registers.

For their part, the St Christopher (formerly Vilnius) Chamber Orchestra under Donatus Katkus have few opportunities to shine. Nevertheless, they keep the accompaniment chugging along nicely, hinting at Haydnesque and Mozartian sounds to come.

Allan Pulker
The WholeNote, January 2010

These four (C major, G major and two in D major), of Johann Stamitz’s fourteen concertos for flute and orchestra, were probably composed in the 1750s for the flute virtuoso Johann Wendling. They demand reconsideration of the standard music school wisdom on the “rococo” period as a kind of transitional netherworld where composers produced inane music, which inexplicably laid the ground work for Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. These concertos are poised and mature. The writing for the flute is superb, equally expressive in the virtuosic outer movements and in the slow middle movements. The orchestral writing is equally impressive; and the pair of horns in both D major concertos (not just the second as the notes suggest) are masterfully employed. The middle movement of the C major concerto, with its stern repetitive Beethovenian dotted rhythmic motif, is poignantly tragic; and the virtuosity required throughout of both the soloist and of the orchestra, far from being exhibitionism, is central to the meaning of this music.

Robert Aitken is exemplary, his sound robust, even in the most extreme register transitions, and at times tender; his articulation sets the standard. The orchestra is virile in the tutti passages and engagingly rhythmic when accompanying the flute. The cadenzas, composed by Aitken, are stylistically consistent and contain some lovely touches, like the orchestra joining the flute in the trill at the conclusion of the cadenza in the slow movement of the first D major concerto.

James Manheim, January 2010

…they’re nicely balanced between soloist and orchestra…the overall impression is weighty…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

In the history of music the name of Johann Stamitz is credited among those who created and developed the symphony as we know it today. Born in 1717, our knowledge of his life after his entry into Prague University is at best sketchy, the first accurate details coming with his ‘apprenticeship’ employment at the Court in Mannheim in 1741. He appears to have been quickly elevated to the rank of ‘director of instrumental music’, and at the same time must have been very active as a composer, leaving behind him a sizeable output on his death at the age of forty. We are already in debt to Naxos who have given us two enjoyable discs of his symphonies [8.553194 & 8.554447], and I hope they will expand on this disc containing four flute concertos. Apparently he composed fourteen, and though not revelatory, they are engaging and offer a soloist the vehicle for a display of agility. The disc’s note writer does not illuminate us on the aegis of the works, but they are all in happy major keys—two in D and one each in C and G, and cast in the conventional three movements. They must have called for staggering virtuosity on instruments of the time, and are here played by the Canadian-flautist, Robert Aitken, whose nimble fingers get around a myriad of notes with enviable dexterity. Whether the cadenzas are by Stamitz is not made clear, but they add much to the soloist’s problems. Almost a piccolo in the upper reaches, Aitken’s instrument is of silvery and pleasing lightness. Once known as the Vilnius Chamber Orchestra, the Lithuanian group has now taken the name of the city’s patron saint. Playing on modern instruments—as does Aitken—their part is not exacting but neatly played and nicely balanced with the soloist.

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