, June 2007
Bohemian-born Johann Baptist Vaňhal enjoyed a long and successful career, and wrote around 75 symphonies and a large number of concertos, vocal masses and vast quantities of chamber music. Arriving in Vienna in the service of Countess Schaffgotsch, Vaňhal found himself in the midst of a cultural melting-pot, with rich families competing with each other to hold the most glamorous music soirées. The works on this disc are thought to have been written around 1771, and while there are seventeen works listed as ‘Flöten-Quartette’ in Alexander Weinmann’s thematic catalogue of Vaňhal’s work, only a very small number survive today.
With the variety of published sources and versions for different solo instruments for these works, Uwe Grodd must have had his work cut out for him when creating his own edition. The music comes up sounding very good however, and one is left wondering at the ‘World Première’ label given to these recordings, such is the quality of the music on offer.
You may well be thinking, ‘not more obscure 18th century chamber music, booooring’, but I feel Naxos and the performers on this recording have done a superb job, and will do my best to convince you to think again. For a start, the sound is excellent on this disc, with a big acoustic helping the flute especially. This is no hair-shirt listening experience, and can genuinely be enjoyed on many levels. Uwe Grodd plays a modern instrument, but has a restrained vibrato, a refined sound, plenty of dynamic range and an excellent sense of line and phrasing. Unlike some works in this genre, the flute part is not a virtuoso showcase for some bewigged player wanting a vehicle to show off his technique. The parts are more equally distributed among the voices, and the Janaki String Trio is more than equal to the task of making the ‘accompaniment’ into a fully rounded ensemble. As the booklet notes point out, “[these works’] contemporary popularity rested less on their technical accomplishment than on their melodic freshness and unfailing air of quiet sophistication.”
For flute players, this can be the springboard for creating new repertoire for yourself, expanding beyond the Mozart Quartets, or, assuming you can find a spare violinist somewhere, growing from works like Haydn’s ‘London’ trios. The same goes for record-collecting chamber music fans. This music is of that open, clean, transparent kind which makes few emotional demands, but which hides a verdant garden of rich colour and variety, and all at bargain price.