Thursday, October 30, 2014

Joseph Martin Kraus: Symphonies & Violin Concerto

Joseph Martin Kraus
Symphonies & Violin Concerto
Capella Savaria; Zslot Kalló, violin, Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Joseph Martin Kraus is often called the Swedish Mozart, and with good reason. He was an exact contemporary of Mozart's and was considered by Haydn to be his near-equal as a composer. The German-born Kraus spent virtually all of his professional life in the service of Gustav II of Sweden, while remaining up-to-date on musical trends.

This new recording features two symphonies from the early 1780's, and a violin concerto from 1777. The Symphony in C major, VB138 is a three-movement chamber symphony, with a charming simplicity of melody that indeed recalls Mozart. By contrast, the Symphony in C-sharp minor, VB140 is a roiling work, reflecting the Strum und Drang aesthetic of Haydn. The choice of key also aids in the intensity of the emotion.

The violin concerto shares similarities to the early concertos of Mozart. By comparison, the violin part is a little understated, but still it's an attractive work. Zsolt Kalló performs with a rich, warm sound, taking full advantage of his gut-stringed violin.

The Capella Savaria is a period instrument ensemble, but under Nicholas McGegan's direction it doesn't really sound like one. Perhaps it's because the music is so well-matched to the ensemble, or maybe it's because Kraus uses wind instruments so sparingly (and no percussion at all). Whatever the reason, the Capella Savaria has a real presence and vitality that makes these great performances, not just great early music performances.

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