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Michael Alexander Willens, conductor
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Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda:
Symphonies 2 & 4
Michael Alexander Willens
Rasmus van Rijn
– April 26, 2021
Even more astonishing is the downright chamber-musical beginning of the Fourth Symphony, which, like its eight-year older sister, was premiered in the Leipzig Gewandhaus and likewise received a warm reception.
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– April 26, 2021
Not long after submitting my 2007 Want List for Fanfare 31:2, I began to experience buyerʼs remorse over one of my picks, a Calliope CD containing three string quartets by Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda played by the Talich Quartet. Not that there was anything wrong with the performances or the recording, but I do tend to oversell music Iʼm really taken with by composers that are new to me. Such was the case with Julius Röntgen, whose music I initially advocated passionately for in these pages, and then began to question my own judgment for having done so upon further exposure.
I was afraid I might have been guilty of the same lack of discernment in promoting Kalliwoda (1801–66), but perhaps not, for James North, reviewing the same CD in the same issue, went even further in extolling the composerʼs virtues, elevating him to the string quartet writersʼ pantheon of Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvořák, and Bartók.
Kalliwodaʼs life overlapped those of Beethoven and Schumann, and his symphonies—seven in number—are sometimes said to be the missing link between the two. That may be a reach, for not only does it fail to take note of symphonies by the German-Austrian axis of composers such as Schubert, Czerny, Weber, Spohr, and Loewe, it overlooks the most significant composer of all whose symphonies played hopscotch with Schumannʼs, namely Mendelssohn. It also reveals an Austro-German ethnocentric bias in neglecting to acknowledge the symphonic efforts in France by composers such as Hérold, Adam, Gossec, and Onslow—Iʼve named only those who died after Beethoven but before Schumann.
Kalliwoda was extremely prolific. There are some 250 works with opus numbers, but at least 200 more without, in every genre of the day: operas, sacred choral works, symphonies, concert overtures, concertos for piano and violin (Kalliwoda was an accomplished violinist), chamber works, pieces for solo piano, and numerous songs. He was highly enough regarded in his lifetime that his music was known as far afield as the U.S., where the New York Philharmonic commissioned an overture from him and performed it at a concert in 1842; and a choral work, Das Deutsches Lied, remained popular in Germany until the 1930s. After that, Kalliwoda virtually vanished from the stage. His fate closely parallels that of his almost exact contemporary Carl Loewe (1796–1869), who at least still clings tenuously to immortality through his hundreds of Lieder. But who today remembers Loewe for his symphonies, piano concertos, string quartets, or piano trio?
How does one explain the virtual disappearance from the scene of a major composer in his time and the neglect of a body of nearly 500 works? I donʼt know. But to the rescue rides cpo, as it has on behalf of quite a few other 19th-century composers who have sunk into near-oblivion. Already recorded by the label, albeit not by the same orchestra and conductor, are Kalliwodaʼs Fifth and Seventh symphonies. That recording, with Christoph Spering leading the period-instrument ensemble Das Neue Orchester, was reviewed by Michael Carter in 30:3.
Surprising as it may seem, cpo does not have the field to itself, at least as far as Kalliwodaʼs symphonic output is concerned. Frieder Bernius essayed the composerʼs Fifth and Sixth symphonies with his period-instrument Stuttgart Hofkapelle band for Orfeo, and Jiri Malát led the modern-instrument Pilsen Radio Orchestra in a recording of the same pair of symphonies for Centaur. And thatʼs not all: MDG entered the ring with a modern-instrument performance of Kalliwodaʼs Third Symphony performed by the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra led by Johannes Moesus. The aforementioned review by Carter is a triple-header that also surveys the Orfeo and MDG discs. Since the Second and Fourth symphonies on the current CD appear to be new to the catalog, there are no comparisons to be made, but I would refer you to Carterʼs entry for further background information.
Itʼs testament to how far period-instrument performance has come to acknowledge that it is difficult to know for sure (hence the question mark in the headnote) whether the Cologne Academy Orchestra musicians are playing period instruments or modern. Background on the ensemble is equivocal on the matter, stating that “its members perform on modern and historical instruments.” Iʼm not sure whether to take that as meaning that they switch from one to the other depending on the period of the work being performed, or if they mix modern and historical instruments together in the same performance. Whichever the case may be, only once, at the very beginning of the Adagio introduction to the Overture No. 17, did I suspect period instruments in what sounded to me like a thin, pallid string sound on a single violin section chord. After that, there was not an inkling that I was listening to anything other than a well-drilled, highly polished modern-instrument ensemble.
As for the music, no one is going to mistake Kalliwoda for either Beethoven or Schumann. I canʼt even honestly say that these works echo the former or anticipate the latter; they seem quite of their own mind and personality. Formally, they break no new ground. Both symphonies are in four movements with slow introductions that precede fully worked-out sonata-allegro structures. As late as 1829, the date of the E!-Major Symphony, Kalliwoda is still calling his third movement a Menuetto; but by 1835, the date of the C-Major Symphony, he designates the third movement a Scherzo.
In the fast-paced first and fourth movements, the practically nonstop breathless passagework in the violins and the brassy orchestration are clearly post- Beethoven, as are the melodic contours and the harmonic framework. But neither Mendelssohn nor Schumann is yet to be heard from in either of these scores. And why would they? Schumannʼs First Symphony was still six years in the offing, and itʼs doubtful that Kalliwoda would have heard Mendelssohnʼs unpublished “Italian” Symphony, completed two years earlier, in 1833. But itʼs not just a matter of timing; talent vs. genius is a big part of the equation.
Kalliwodaʼs symphonies, at least as evidenced by the two on this CD, are examples of the Romantic symphony in its becoming. In melody there is nothing as distinctive or as memorable as Schumannʼs exquisitely turned phrases of loveʼs ardor and yearning; and in neither harmony nor orchestral texture is there anything as imaginative and original as Mendelssohnʼs gossamer-winged sylphs and unbidden, unforced outpouring of pure lyricism. None of this is to say that there is not much beautiful music here, for there is; and for both the completist and the lover of early to mid 19th-century symphonic music, Kalliwodaʼs symphonies and overtures make wonderful fill-in-the-gap works.
Performances and recording are excellent. Strongly recommended. Jerry Dubin This article originally appeared in Issue 34:4 (Mar/Apr 2011) of Fanfare Magazine.
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