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Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, February 2009

Kraus, a contemporary of Mozart, isn't exactly a forgotten composer—but his work hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, either. This is a world-premiere recording of his four Italian cantatas, along with the overture and selections from incidental music he wrote to accompany Voltaire's five-act tragedy Olympie. The performances are excellent, and the solo work by the fine coloratura soprano Simone Kermes is especially noteworthy. A must for any comprehensive classical collection.

American Record Guide, December 2008

Called by many “The Swedish Mozart”, Joseph Martin Kraus was actually born near Mainz, Germany and trained for many years in the Mannheim School before finally moving to Stockholm at the age of 22. There he was fortunate enough to secure a position as court composer to King Gustav III, who was a great patron of the arts and even generously paid for Kraus to travel abroad—where he had the opportunity to meet with Haydn—a four-year grand tour that stimulated Kraus to compose a number of symphonies in the prevailing sturm und drang style. We have reviewed several recordings of his symphonies, above all the eloquent Symphonie Funèbre written feverishly and with great reverence following Gustav’s assassination at a masked ball in 1792 (an event commemorated by both Verdi and Auber). Many readers will also know of its harrowing counterpart, the Funeral Cantata, which surely matches the symphony in intensity.

Unfortunately, room on the disc does not permit quite as extended a suite from Kraus’s Olympie as we get from Uwe Grodd on Naxos [8.553734].We hear the powerful and passionate Overture—also available from Petter Sundkvist on Naxos [8.553734], Anthony Halstead on Musica Sveciae, and Richard Bonynge on Decca—and three brief excerpts that correspond in turn to the Act III entr’acte, Postlude and Act IV entr’acte on Grodd’s recording. Werner Ehrhardt’s surging account of the Overture needn’t yield the floor to anyone, and I’m pleased to find he includes a harpsichord like Bonynge, who by the way replaces the fade-out heard on the other recordings with a more decisive cadence of his own devising.

But the big news here is the world premiere recording of four secular cantatas that Kraus wrote for Lovisa Augusti, the lead singer of the Stockholm Royal Theatre. They’re based on poems by Metastasio and span a wondrous gamut of sensual delights and passionate emotions. The earliest of these is probably La Scusa (The Apology), telling of a suitor who desperately woos the shepherdess Clori even after she haughtily spurns his advances. La Pesca (Fishing) is a seaside idyll that apparently serves as an allegory for the maddeningly shifting emotional moods of true love. That naturally leads to La Gelosia (Jealousy), according to the notes laying bare “the tortures of jealousy...attraction and doubt and the fear of going mad”. Finally, La Primavera (Spring), a curious tongue-in-cheek send-up of the prevailing Italian dramatic style with seemingly misplaced chords and fermatas and constantly changing tempos, capped by an extraordinary florid coloratura display that may well explain why these pieces have never been recorded before and are only rarely attempted in concert. We can only imagine how “Fru Augusti” might have dealt with such formidable and furioso vocalism; but what Simone Kermes unleashes here simply has to be heard to be believed—one dazzling roulade after another and spiraling to dizzying heights until as the notes suggest “one is robbed of sight and hearing”. Truly this is phenomenal singing, and it would be nice to know what she’s singing; unfortunately both the Italian text here and the French Amphitryon are only translated into German— no English. Still, given Ms Kermes’s absolutely stunning performance you may not even care.

So here are two highly satisfying examples further confirming the mastery of the “Swedish Mozart”., September 2008

…the four Kraus secular cantatas conducted by Ehrhardt on a new SACD are something of a revelation, with soprano Simone Kermes singing throughout in a clear, well-modulated voice that has fine tone throughout its range, as Kraus weaves music of subtlety and refinement throughout works entitled La Scusa, La Primavera, La Gelosia and La Pesca. Kraus, it turns out, has considerable skill in tone painting (although his “spring” is nothing like, say, Vivaldi’s), and his use of the orchestra is as impressive as his vocal writing. Four excerpts from Olympie—the overture, two Largos and an Andantino—are used as entr’actes to separate the cantatas, and they provide further insight into Kraus’ fine handling of purely instrumental music. This is a Classical-era composer whose acquaintance is definitely worth making.

Giv Confield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, September 2008

The four short secular cantatas recorded here were designated by the composer to be sung 'per una primadonna' - placing as they do severe operatic demands on the soprano. As an exact contemporary, Kraus' style is quite similar to Mozart's, but without that unique, bittersweet quality that distinguishes genius from the merely competent. It would take a voice like Joan Sutherland's to easily float up to the stratospheric heights of these arias, but Ms. Kermes, in spite of a flawless technique, does not possess such a voice. She shrieks, and therein lies the rub. The cantatas are interspersed with movements from Kraus' setting of Voltaire's 'Olympie', and the lot presented as a world premiere recording. It would have been nice to have the entire 'Olympie'.

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