CD Review: FRANZ KROMMER SYMPHONIES 4, 5 & 7 (Orchestra della Svizzera italiana – Howard Griffiths)

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by Jim Allen on June 10, 2018

in CD-DVD,Music


Quick: Who was Franz Krommer? Don’t worry, many don’t know. A contemporary of Mozart by birthdate, this classical composer (b.1759, d.1831) was one of the most successful Czech composers in Vienna. “Franz Krommer” was born Frantisek Kramár, and at times his Bohemian and Germanized name were combined into Krommer-Kramár. Scholars assert that this name confusion prevented him from being fully remembered as a great composer in history. Krommer outlived Mozart by quite a few years; as a result, his later music sounds more like that of Beethoven (some even regarded him, hopefully, as a competitor to Beethoven). By the time of his death he was already something of a relic, yet throughout his life, principally residing in Vienna, he was a fertile and prosperous composer of concertos, chamber music, and at least 10 symphonies, of which eight have survived. If you think that he fell into obscurity immediately upon his death because his works aren’t worth visiting, this CD of three of his symphonies — Symphony No. 4 op. 102, Symphony No. 5 op. 105, and Symphony No 7 without opus — will immediately change that thinking.

The Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, under Howard Griffiths’ leadership, already delivered evidence with their stellar recording of the first three symphonies. Now this tight outfit returns with an equally lively and well-polished album on the CPO label. Symphonies 4, 5, and 7 are good, well-crafted early 19th-century classical writing, and the Swiss orchestra actually plays up Krommer’s virtues. Haydn and Mozart were understandably influential in the earlier symphonies, but here we get the early Beethoven’s more vigorous declamation as well. (There was a 13-year hiatus from symphony writing between Symphony No. 3 and No. 4.) Perhaps more ornamental than progressive, with a minimum of memorable melodies, Krommer nonetheless offers imaginative woodwind lines that exaggerate the themes in slow passages and add mischievous, tittering observations in the faster movements.

The animated, colorful music is given an enthusiastic, metrically attentive rendition that is most pleasing, in a stunningly balanced recording that runs almost 80 minutes. Additionally, Bert Hagels’ liner notes are amazingly comprehensive, going so far as to let you know what’s happening at specific recording times. Truly a wonderful addition for anyone who thinks outside of the classical box.

photo of OSI by Lothar Bruweleit
Howard Griffiths photo from his website

FRANZ KROMMER | Symphonies 4, 5 & 7
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana | Howard Griffiths, conductor
CPO 555 125-2 | 12 tracks | 79:20
released on March 23, 2018
available at Naxos and Amazon

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