Franz Krommer (1759-1831)
Quatuor, Oeuvre 46, Nr. 1 en Eb, pour le basson principal, deux altos
et basse
allegro moderato
menuetto; allegretto

Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809)
Divertimento in D-major for 2 viola’s and violone
Allegro moderato
Menuetto I. Trio
Menuetto II. Trio
Finale. Allegro

W.A.Mozart (1756-1791)
Adagio, KV 580a,
arranged for two violas, cello and bassoon by Mordechai Rechtman
Johann Nepomuk HummelJohann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Trio, in G major, for 2 violas and cello
Allegro moderato
Andantini grazioso
Menuetto. Allegretto
Rondo a la Burlesqua

Franz Krommer (1759-1831)
Quatuor, Oeuvre 46, Nr. 1 en Eb, pour le basson principal, deux altos
et basse
menuetto; moderato

“As the greatest expert and judge of harmony, he liked best to play the viola, with appropriate loudness and softness”. (C.P.E. Bach about J.S. Bach)

This quote adorns the portal to the Web’s official viola site, yet I doubt it is intended as the punch line of yet another bad viola joke. Neither is «island’s» newest programme, devoted to the glorious, melodious contralto of the viola. The original impetus was provided by the two quartets of Franz Krommer, longtime favourites. Every time we rehearse the pieces we are struck not only by their brilliance and wit but also by the immense satisfaction of their instrumentation; the warm, rich, deep tonal world of two violas entwined with cello and bassoon. “Every piece should be written for this combination” is a familiar cry. Thus we have concocted a programme which eliminates the high and shrill violin altogether in favour of the lovely resonant, voluptuous viola. The repertoire we have dug out is richly rewarding. Please sit back and sink yourself into its warm bath.”

Appropriately the two Krommer quartets flank the programme. Enhancing the often-used classical model of wind instrument with violin, viola, and cello, in Krommer’s quartets a second viola assumes the role usually taken by violin. The absence of a truly treble instrument in the scoring gives dense harmonies and sombrely glowing sonorities. Krommer uses the abundance of tenor colours to create extraordinarily individual textures and special effects, some of which even border on the bizarre. The Bohemian composer follows in the line of a long and rich tradition of instrumental writing, much of it featuring winds, centred around the court of the Habsburg emperors in Vienna, where he was the last officially appointed court composer to Emperor Franz I. In this work, the bassoon is given ample opportunity for both acrobatic display and songfulness, all within a solid structural framework which is given integrity by its strong thematic consistency and the use of almost ostinato-type rhythmic figures.

island in the mountains

Albrechtberger’s trio gives the ears a respite from virtuosity and thick textures, as it is written in a very transparent, conservative style. The cello is given a simple bass role, above which the violas swoop and dart in melodic arches, sometimes cleverly imitative, but often in full-voiced unisono. The music is uncomplicated, but beautifully crafted, elegant and charming. Johann Georg Albrechtberger was an Austrian theoretician, organist, composer, and teacher of great esteem, whose many accomplished students included Beethoven (who according to Albrechtsburger learned nothing and would never write anything decent!) as well as Hummel. As court organist in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, he was judged by none other than Mozart to be superior to all other players of the instrument. Mozart arranged for him to be assistant Kapellmeister in 1791, and he took over the chief role 1793; the highest position in the entire Empire for a church musician.

As for Mozart himself, it is always a great privilege to be able to play any of his music, and in this case it is due to the efforts of Israeli bassoonist Mordechai Rechtman who arranged the Adagio in Bb, KV411 for bassoon and string trio. This sublime piece is originally for a quintet of two clarinets and basset horns, and is in essence an extended operatic aria for the first clarinet. During my past wind ensemble concerts I have long listened with wonderment, bordering on envy, to the ravishing, cantabile line soaring above the pulsing basset horn accompaniment. Now I shall have the chance to put my own vocal skills to the test.

A student of both Albrechtsburger and Mozart, Johann Nepomuk Hummel went on to become one of Europe’s greatest pianists and composers. He was also a close friend of Mozart, and similarly was a prodigy who from an early age traveled frenetically on concert tours throughout Europe. Having established his reputation as one of its leading piano virtuosi, he settled more quietly for some years in Vienna with no fixed position. This was a period of great industry (producing the Trio among much else), but also of enormous financial insecurity, during which Hummel taught ten lessons a day and stayed up composing until 4AM. This lifestyle obviously reestablished his life priorities, as Hummel went on to become one of the most financially astute and comfortably set up of composers, especially once becoming grand-ducal Kapellmeister at Weimar. Many of his contemporaries ungenerously saw this bourgeoisie reflected in his playing and composition, perceiving his music as rather old-fashioned, learned, dry and passionless, especially in comparison to the more fiery Beethoven and other more bombastic proponents of Romanticism. Indeed his compositions have a classical simplicity of line and structure, but also often a wonderful sense of freely spontaneous melodiousness. In fact, listening to the trio, I am at a loss to understand any criticism, as this, especially the warmly glowing slow movement is a gem of early romanticism. With its unfolding, soaring melodies, swelling crescendi, the inevitability to its harmonic tugs leading to climactic peaks, it can only be described as decidedly passionate. The final Rondo a la Burlesqua is cheerful, full of rollicking humour, bordering on foolishness, but of the best kind.