Wednesday 13 August 2014

Franz Danzi - music for piano and winds, volume 1

Franz Danzi - music for piano and winds volume 1 - Devine Music
Franz Danzi - music for piano and winds; EnsembleF2; Devine Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 05 2014
Star rating: 3.5

First volume in a planned survey of Danzi's music for piano and wind

Franz Danzi (1763 - 1826) is one of those names known, if at all, for some vague musical association; in Danzi's case it is his chamber music and wind music which has kept his name just about in the catalogue. This new disc from EnsembleF2, James Eastaway oboe, Jane Booth clarinet, Anneke Scott horn, Ursula Levaux bassoon and Steven Devine forte piano, is the first of a planned series on Devine Music exploring Danzi's chamber works played on period instruments.

Danzi was born into something of a musical dynasty, his father was a cellist with the famous Mannheim Court Orchestra in the 18th century and Danzi would go on to join his father in the ensemble. The movement of the Electoral court from Mannheim to Munich was problematic for the musicians, some like Franz stayed in Mannheim, others like his father moved to Munich but experienced personal and financial problems in the under financed new ensemble. Ultimately Franz Danzi made his career in Munich, before moving to Wurttemberg court in Stuttgart (where he met Carl Maria von Weber) and finally to the Baden court at Karlsruhe.

During his lifetime Danzi was known as a composer as operas, but his extensive output of chamber music has meant that in modern times it is this genre for which he is known. He is particularly known for his wind music, partly because the technology of wind instruments was changing and Danzi took full advantage of the technical advancements.

The disc opens with his Quintet, Op.41 for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano in which both the instrumentation and music seem to emulate Mozart's Quintet KV452. Danzi published the work in 1810, and it exists in two versions one with string quartet and one with wind ensemble. The opening movement gives us a Larghetto before the Allegro proper. Danzi starts with a slow piano introduction before the wind players join in. Here, and elsewhere, the sound-world is very much that of Mozart (seven years Danzi's senior, Mozart's death occurred before Danzi had chance to establish himself as a composer).

The Larghetto is expressive, in a minor mode with some lovely fluent wind solos. I have to confess that the sound of the fortepiano took some getting used to. The disc was recorded at Finchcocks Museum at Gouhurst, using a Fritz grand piano built in 1815. Frankly, I found the sound a bit sour at first. In the Allegro the arpeggiated piano figures contrast with the flowing wind solos. This creates some interesting textures and Danzi uses the wind also, to interrupt the piano solos. The overall wind sound is very much oboe led. The Andante sostenuto starts with a poised wind ensemble, with no piano at all, before the piano joins in. Again, Danzi uses the contrast between the busy moving piano and the more flowing wind lines. Finally, a charming and elegant Allegretto with a dance-like feel.

Duo sonatas for horn and piano essentially start with Beethoven who wrote his Op.17 sonata in 1801 for the virtuoso Giovanni Punto. This was a success and other composers followed suit with Danzi writing sontatas in 1804 and 1814. His first sonata was described by a contemporary reviewer who praised Danzi for his 'meaningful grace and moderated liveliness'.

Danzi's first sonata, his Sonata in E flat for fortepiano and horn, Op.28 is played by Anneke Scott and Steven Devine. The first movement has a lovely dramatic Adagio introduction which makes use of the resonance of the horn. The subsequent Allegro has an extensive piano-sonata-like introduction, before the horn joins in. There are some lovely stopped notes, and Scott brings a lovely sense of legato to the part. But the piano does get the majority of the interest, with the horn contributing things like some wonderful low farting notes. It is a gentle minor mode piece, with some lovely stopped notes on the horn creating a contrast in sounds and textures. The Rondo finale is civilised and quite steady, before getting more rumbustious. And then there is an amazing addition, a remarkable combination of thumping and bells. The Fritz forte-piano was fitted out with novelty stops controlled from an additional pedal and knee lever; a set of bells, a cymbal crash, a drum and a fagotto (a sheet of paper covering the lower strings). The result is remarkable and utterly charming, rather like the advent of a heavy footted Morris Dancer.

Danzi's 1818 Sontata in B flat major for fortepiano and clarinet, Op.54 was one of an early group which used a fully written out piano part for the first time (instead of a basso continuo). The opening Allegro has a very busy piano part with more lyrical clarinet writing. An early review warns that a player would have to concentrate on beautiful tone and a delivery like in singing, something that Jane Booth does superbly bringing out the music's almost operatic like cast In the Andante sostenuto we return to the Mozartian piano solo, with the clarinet joining in with fluent grace. The finally Allegretto is a gently perky set of variations, with quite a busy and chromatic clarinet part; a friend listening to the disc with me referred to wailing jazz clarinet chromatics.

Danzi's music is quite large scale, his movements are very substantial and the three works last a total of nearly 80 minutes. His music has a civilised grace, it is fluent and charming but doesn't break the rules or leap off the page. The performances, however, are exemplary and bring out all the charm and sophistication of Danzi's music.

Franz Danzi (1763 - 1826) - Quintet in D minor for fortepiano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, Op.41 [28.40]
Franz Danzi (1763 - 1826) - Sonata in E flat major for fortepiano and horn, Op.28 [24.27]
Franz Danzi (1763 - 1826) - Sonata in B flat major for fortepiano and clarinet, Op.54 [26.32]
EnsembleF2 (James Eastaway - oboe, Jane Booth - clarinet, Anneke Scott - horn, Ursula Levaux - bassoon, Steven Devine - fortepiano)
Recorded April 2013 at Finchcocks Musical Museum, Goudhurst, Kent

The disc is available direct from the Devine Music website.

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