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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The lively invention we know from the ‘Swedish Mozart’s’ symphonies is found in this substantial 30-minute Violin Concerto. Classically elegant it may be, but it also contains passages of virtuosic brilliance. The slow movement (strings alone) has much relaxed charm, as has the rondo-finale. The Olympie incidental music is rather darker, as befits the rather grim story. It consists of a rather Sturm und Drang overture, a march, and four Entr’actes and a Postlude which is rather beautiful. The five short numbers form Kraus’s 1779 Swedish opera Azire are all that survive from the work, and delightful they are too. Decent performances and sound.


Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, August 2008

Joseph Martin Kraus was almost an exact contemporary of Mozart born only five months after Mozart on 20 June 1756. He died a year and ten days after Mozart on 15 December 1792.

Like Haydn in Eszterháza, Kraus’s isolation from mainstream Europe caused him to develop along an original musical path. Some of his earlier music sounds a little like Stürm und Drang Haydn, while some of the last music has a Romantic style that makes one wish he had lived into the nineteenth century. Then we might have seen some fireworks! Kraus had a wonderful lyrical gift. Some of his melodies rival Mozart’s in their seeming endlessness—something one hears several times in the aforementioned symphonies.

The symphony discs reveal much of Kraus’s most serious and daring music while another of ballet music—Fiskarena and two early Pantomimes—suggest that at least some of Kraus’s stage efforts were in a somewhat lighter vein. I was very curious, then, to see what this disc had to offer this die-hard Kraus fan.

This is the first disc in the series not to be recorded by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Petter Sundqvist, who also recorded the Olympie Overture which is on this CD. Here we have a chamber-sized New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under a conductor well known to collectors of various of Naxos’s Classical-period recordings, Uwe Grodd.

…I was looking forward to the incidental music to Olympie. An absolutely splendid rendition of the overture was on my first Kraus disc (8.553734) and I was anxious to hear the rest of the score written by Kraus for the 1792 production at the Stockholm Royal Dramatic Theatre of the adaptation of Voltaire’s play. Certainly there’s nothing much to choose between this performance and the one by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on the earlier Naxos disc and the following short wind Marcia is delightfully pointed by the New Zealand forces. The Entr’actes are mostly short and engaging pieces and the raw drama of the Overture is never recaptured until the haunting Postlude. However, this is attractive and colourful music that certainly rewarded my repeated listening.

The ballet music to Azire is all that remains from Kraus’s first opera for the Royal Court in Stockholm in 1779. It would seem that the emotionally charged music of the stage work is not reflected in these five very short numbers which are mere interludes in what seems to have been a very dramatic opera.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays with apparent relish and the sound is warm and full. However, I missed that last degree of refinement and transparency that I always felt with the Örebro recordings on the earlier Swedish Chamber Orchestra discs.

My slight disappointment with this disc in no way diminishes my hunger for further Kraus releases on Naxos and I look forward eagerly to further issues.

Robin Stowell
The Strad, April 2008

The only  surviving concertante work of Joseph Kraus, the Violin Concerto in C major is substantial in both length and content. It incorporates moments of technical brilliance and displays influences from Mannheim, where Kraus learnt his trade.

Takako Nishizako makes a persuasive case for it with solo playing of Classical poise and tonal purity. More might have been made of Kraus’s prescribed dynamic contrasts, especially in the first movement, but Nishizaki shows a natural, supple response to the line and phrase in the dramatic central Adagio, revelling in its soaring melodies and moments of almost recitative-like freedom. She plays the minuet-like finale with an attractive, chimerical lightness, which comes especially to the fore in its two expansive episodes. Uwe Grodd and his forces support in a traditional but uninflated style and give powerful accounts of music from Kraus’s Olympie and Azire. These recordings are clean, with fresh string-tone and well-defined bass.

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, March 2008

The Naxos series celebrating the music of Joseph Martin Kraus is one of the glories of the partnership between Allan Badley’s Artaria Editions and Klaus Heymann’s innovative label. Born in the same year as Mozart and dying only a year after his more famous contemporary, Kraus was an original and exciting composer, whose talent was recognised by Gluck and Haydn: the latter referred to him as one of the only two geniuses he knew, the other being Mozart.

The four Naxos discs of Kraus’s surviving symphonies (see review of Vol.4 in that series) are compulsory acquisitions for anyone with an interest in the music of the Classical period. They show Kraus at his most daring, a composer whose Sturm und Drang vibrancy rivals that of Haydn.

These two new discs, both useful additions to the Kraus discography, reveal a softer side of Kraus. They showcase his talent as a composer for the stage and demonstrate that this master of drama and innovation could also write music to soothe and cheer.

The first of these discs opens with the world premiere recording of Kraus’ violin concerto in C major, alongside first recordings of some of his incidental music and scraps of ballet. Kraus the performer was a violinist first and keyboard player second—the opposite of Mozart. While comparisons with Mozart’s violin concertos are inevitable, Kraus’s concerto is stylistically very different.

The first movement is broad and beautiful and comes across as the opening movement of a symphony with violin solo rather than of a violin concerto proper. Certainly its length—greater than that of the remaining movements together—gives Kraus ample space for full symphonic development. There is little combat between soloist and orchestra here. The violin’s contribution is lyrical, even when Kraus demands the soloist’s utmost virtuosity as he explores the violin’s technical capabilities. The slow movement has a wonderful singing quality, with the violin dipping and soaring in long languid lines above a responsive, pellucid base of strings. The slim winds and brass having nothing to contribute here. The finale is a lightly dancing rondo of understated virtuosity. A composer of Kraus’s Sturm und Drang credentials and recognized skill as a violinist may have been expected to finish off a violin concerto with fireworks, and sure enough the liner notes disclose that the concerto’s original finale was a pacy scherzo. Why Krause replaced that finale with this gentler one is a matter of conjecture. In any case, it feels of a piece with the rest of the concerto.

Takako Nishizaki plays the concerto with grace and expression. She is up to Kraus’ challenges and is able to conquer them unobtrusively, letting the music sing. She receives warm support from the trimmed down New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd.

The incidental music to the tragedy Olympie is remarkable for its superb overture. Its broad, brooding introduction foreshadows Beethoven’s Egmont—though it is doubtful that Beethoven would ever have heard it—and the allegro is dynamically exciting and crackles with energy. This is the overture’s second recording on Naxos. It first appeared on Naxos’s first disc of the Kraus symphonies (8.553734). As much as I admire Grodd and his New Zealanders for their genial warmth of sound, I prefer Petter Sundkvist and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra in this music for the greater bite of their attack and the excitement they whip up.

The rest of the incidental music consists of a march, four entr’actes and a postlude. The march and first interlude feature some delightful bassoon and clarinet interplay, but the third and fourth entr’actes are the highlights. The former is a beguiling courtly dance, languidly shaped by Grodd and the NZSO; the latter is a proud minuet spiced with touches of the minor mode. The attractive postlude returns to the atmosphere of brooding tragedy evoked in the overture.

The scraps of ballet music from Azire that close the disc are all that remains of Kraus’s first work for the stage. It is light and charming music, sparkling in its scoring and changes of meter and played with obvious enjoyment by the NZSO.

If Kraus’ incidental music tickles your fancy, you may want to seek out the disc of his ballet music. It is unfailingly well crafted, tuneful and charming.

The two Pantomimes are simply structured but full of imaginative touches and hustling violin figurations. They are essentially short sinfonias in the Italian style, though the second interrupts the usual three movement structure with a march movement. The Pantomime in D is particularly impressive, its central adagio a bucolic idyll that features lovely writing for solo oboe.

The main work here is Fiskarena—a stand-alone ballet score. This is not a Sturm und Drang score, but a charming and colourful work which alternates joyful allegros with charming adagios and andantes. A couple of “Anglaise” movements echo and quote a British hornpipe, and the ballet’s penultimate number dresses a folk-like Hungarian theme in delicate orchestration.

As a pendant, Naxos offers two charming snips of ballet music which Kraus, as principal conductor of the Stockholm Opera, composed for insertion into Gluck’s Armide to make the opera more appealing to Swedish audiences.

Throughout the programme, Sundkvist and his band play the music with flair.

Both discs are accompanied by learned booklet notes by Bertil van Boer, who also composed the cadenza for the violin concerto and reconstructed the Pantomime in G. His writing communicates his enthusiasm for Kraus’ music, and when that music is played as well as it is on these two discs, that enthusiasm is infectious.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Naxos has been doing some extensive, exploratory and pioneering work on behalf of Joseph Martin Kraus, Mozart’s exact contemporary. Kraus also shared Mozart’s early demise, outliving him by only a year.  He was born in Miltenburg am Main, educated in Mannheim and later Mainz and Göttingen. He moved to Sweden in 1778 where he became a Kapellmeister and was a greatly admired figure in Stockholm musical and literary circles.

The three works presented here are, it seems, receiving their first complete performances on disc. The Violin Concerto dates from 1783 and is discreetly and conventionally orchestrated for strings, two flutes and two horns. Nevertheless it’s a big work with a first movement lasting a full quarter of an hour, which includes a cadenza written by the author of the sleeve notes, Bertil van Boer. The demands on the soloist are clearly extensive but Kraus avoids the kind of showy virtuosity that excited, say, Viotti, and the result is a discreet kind of high-powered soloistic challenge allied to genial and enjoyable thematic material. The slow movement perhaps better shows what Kraus was made of—the rather lovely lyrical material moves into gravity once or twice, a smile alternating with a grimace and there’s a fine rondo finale with a delightful pay off ending; as nonchalant an envoi as anything by Mozart.

The incidental music to Olympie consists of the overture, a march, four entr’actes and a postlude. The overture is dramatically weighted and rich in Sturm und Drang—powerful contrasts course through its seven-minute length. The March is by direct contrast for a stately wind band alternating with—predominately—string textures. The entr’actes are elegant and well crafted; that between the fourth and fifth acts is especially strong and dramatic. And the postlude ends purposefully. The music is attractive, well crafted and enjoyable.

The ballet music from Azure (1779) is much briefer—seven and a half minutes in length. This is, as one might anticipate, much lighter in tone than the more obviously dynamic and dramatic Olympie. Kraus writes extremely well and evocatively for flutes [No.23–track 12].

Naxos has here left the Swedish Chamber Orchestra for the heftier New Zealand Symphony. Soloist Takako Nishizaki plays with sensitive control though occasionally her intonation slips. Together they restore some worthwhile and valuable music to public audition.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group