Andrew Benson-Wilson, Early Music Reviews
30th of October, 2015
Discover Danzi (concert and CD)
Concert: St John’s, Smith Square, 22 October 2015
CD: Franz Danzi: Music for Piano and Winds Vol 2
Devine Music. DMCD004. 70’05
Concert: Steven Devine, fortepiano, Jane Booth, basset horn, Anneke Scott, natural horn;
CD: plus Katy Bircher, flute, James Eastaway, oboe, Ursula Leveaux, bassoon & Jane Booth, clarinet.
CD: Franz Danzi: Grand Sonata in F for fortepiano and basset horn Op. 62; Sonata in E minor for fortepiano and horn Op. 44; Quintet in D Op.54/2 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano.
The St John’s, Smith Square concert by ensembleF2 was part of a series of events to promote the second in their series of Franz Danzi recordings. The concert included the first two of the CD pieces, but replaced the latter’s concluding Quintet in D with Mozart’s piano Adagio in B minor (KV540), played as an introductory prelude to the Horn Sonata. Both concert and CD contrast two of the most evocative sounds of the early classical period – the basset horn and the natural horn, the similarity of their names bearing no relation to their distinctively different tones.
The basset horn is a wonderful example of the maxim not to judge anything by its appearance. It looks like a piece of badly botched plumbing, but produces the most sensual butterscotch sauce sound, oozing smoothness and luxuriousness. This was well in evidence in the opening piece of the concert (and CD), Danzi’s Grand Sonata in F for fortepiano and basset horn (Op. 62). The order that the instruments are named is deliberate; the pianoforte is very much in charge, with the basset horn only occasionally taking over the melodic line, and then usually losing it pretty quickly. In the opening movement, for example, it is well into the Allegretto before the basset horn gets a proper melody, but is then soon reduced to a Corelli bass following by an oompah bass. That said, its contribution is distinctive, even if it is often pouring balm on the virtuosic flurry of notes from the pianoforte. The central Larghetto is a powerful affair with the basset horn more in command. It builds to a grand central climax before subsiding.
The natural hand horn is a magnificent instrument; the naturally occurring notes of the harmonic series being added to by moving the hand inside the bell of the instrument, changing both pitch and tone. Every note can sound deliciously different, ranging from buzzy and brassy to subdued and melifluous. Although Danzi’s Sonata in E minor for fortepiano and horn (Op. 44) has the same listed order of instruments as the basset horn Grand Sonata, the natural horn has much more of a say, as announced in its ‘here I am’ opening fanfare. The central Larghetto has the piano very much in an accompanimental role below an extended horn melody while, despite lots of piano flourishes, the horn holds its own during the jovial final movement.
The playing of the solo instruments in both of these Sonatas was exemplary, with Jane Booth and Anneke Scott both managing to balance details of articulation (so important in music of this period) with musical expression. But it was inevitably the expressive fortepiano playing of Steven Devine that was the feature throughout the concert, making some clearly tricky passages sound effortless.
On the CD, the final piece is Danzi’s Quintet in D (Op.54/2) for the unusual combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Again it is the fortepiano that is to the fore, the other instruments frequently doing little more than providing colouring or brief commentary on the piano’s contribution. The CD was recorded in Finchcocks, and uses that collection’s 1815 Johann Fritz fortepiano. On the ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ principal, some of the special effects of that piano are featured just before the end of the last movement, including bells, a drum and the oddly-named Fagotto, creating a buzzy bassoon sound from a sheet of paper that covers the lower strings. These Turkish sounds would have meant more to composers in Vienna, and have little to do with Danzi, but are good fun. The programme notes (in English only) include information about, and photos of, the instruments. The impressive CD cover art (by Emma Semmens) is based on the delicate, but fading, floral decorations inside the bell of Anneke Scott’s c1810 Raoux horn.
Eldon Matlick, The Horn Call - Journal of the International Horn Society
Recording Reviews: Franz Danzi - "Music for Piano and Winds, Vol. 1"
Franz Danzi: Music for Piano and Winds, vol. 1. Ensemble F2; Anneke Scott, horn; James Eastaway, oboe; Jane Booth, clarinet, Ursula Leveaux, bassoon; Steven Devine, fortepiano; Devine Music, DMCD002
Danzi: Quintet in D minor for fortepiano, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, Op. 41; Sonata in E[musical flat] for fortepiano and horn, Op. 28; Sonata in B[musical flat] major for fortepiano and clarinet, Op. 54
Classical music, when performed well still sounds fresh, but when performed by masters on period / reproduction instruments, listeners gain new perspective in the Classical sound ideal.
With modem instruments, the music of Danzi, especially in his wind quintet writing, can be challenging. However, the dexterity required in the Quintet in D minor is especially daunting. From the fast scale and arpeggio work marvelously performed by Anneke Scott to the treacherous woodwind writing being performed on instruments that had not yet achieved their modem form nor mechanism is a testament to the prowess of these musicians.
Homists are familiar with the piano and wind quintets of Mozart and Beethoven. With the music of Danzi, however, we are more familiar with his wind quintet writing and his two horn sonatas. He does have other ensemble works for various combinations of winds that are also delightful.
The Quintet for pianoforte and winds has a transparent texture due to the instruments. The performers play within the sound of the pianoforte in ensemble moments, creating a marvelous texture. Danzi allows opportunities for individual solo work, which creates a nice showpiece for the members of the ensemble. While not at the stature of Beethoven or Mozart, this piece deserves to be considered a worthy addition to ensemble repertoire.
Anneke Scott expertly performs the Horn Sonata in E flat. She possesses warmth in her tone perfect for this work. Some historical performers might quibble about certain aspects of technique where notes are smeared in slurring passages. With no major consensus as to the correctness of approach, having various approaches gives opportunities for those aspiring to learn the natural horn to study.
Scott display superior intonation, especially in chromatic and heavily covered fast passagework. This recording of the horn sonata should be a model to which students of the natural horn should aspire. EM
Early Music Today,
December 2014 - February 2015
FRANZ DANZI: Music for Piano and Winds Vol. I
ensembleF2, Devine Music DMCD002
* * * *
Born in 1763 of Italian/German parentage, Franz Danzi is one of those composers whose music has perhaps unjustly been collecting dust over the last few generations. A contemporary of Beethoven and renowned in his day as an opera composer, it is with his chamber music that his reputation has today gained strength, and he wrote a significant quanity of it. Working initially as a cellist in the Mannheim Court Orchestra, he subsequently followed the orchestra to Munich. After a short spell in Stuttgart, during which time he befriended Weber and Spohr, Danzi's final posting was to the court in Baden where he died before Beethoven, in 1826.
Undoubtedly influenced by Mozart, the three works presented on this disc by ensembleF2 reveal Danzi's skill at drawing out and exploiting the various instruments' cantabile qualities, and is admirably championed by five period-instrument exponents: James Eastaway (oboe), Jane Booth (clarinet), Anneke Scott (horn), Ursula Leveaux (bassoon) and Steven Devine (fortepiano). The timbre of their individual instruments bring infinite colour and character to the D minor Quintet op 41, with its typically dominant keyboard part adding appropriate turbulence and restlessness to the outer movements, but never denying its companions their often substantial, conversational roles. Two sonatas for horn and clarinet, op 28 and op 54 respectively, further exploit the elegant, lyrical capabilities of each, while the piano provides sensitive support and the occasional jovial touch of the fairground to both final movements from the various percussion effects built into Finchcock's 1815 Johann Fritz fortepiano. Enjoyable!"
Robert Hugill, www.planethugill.com,
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.
David Vickers - Gramophone Magazine,
Ensemble F2’s project, prepared last year for Finchcocks Musical Museum in Kent, explores the chamber music of Franz Danzi (1763-1826). A versatile musician who joined the famous Mannheim court orchestra at the age of only 15, he replaced his father as the orchestra’s principal cellist after the court relocated to Munich; in 1798 he was promoted to the position of vice-Kapellmeister, but after some setbacks he worked in Stuttgart (where he befriended Weber and Spohr) before settling in Karlsruhe.
His Quintet in D minor for fortepiano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon (Op 41) was published in Leipzig in 1810, although he simultaneously issued a version for strings (Op 40). The brooding yet beguiling sonority of the Larghetto opening features softly sustained chords that are immaculately balanced by James Eastaway (oboe), Jane Booth (clarinet), Ursula Leveaux (bassoon) and Anneke Scott (horn); all are on scintillating form in this masterfully crafted and elegantly dramatic music.
Steven Devine’s supple fortepiano contributions are flawlessly lyrical, but in the Turkish-style Rondo allegretto conclusion to the Sonata in E flat major for fortepiano and horn (Op 28) he makes astonishing use of ‘Janissary band’ special effects (bells, crashing cymbal, drum and bassoon imitations), operated by an additional pedal and knee lever of a Fritz grand piano (c1815); Scott’s enthralling natural horn-playing takes no prisoners either. Devine’s alert sensitivity and Booth’s cantabile expressiveness form a fine partnership in the Sonata in B flat for fortepiano and clarinet (Op 54). This is a wonderful match of interesting repertoire and classy musicianship.
Brian Robins, Early Music Review
Born into a musical family with strong connections to the famous Mannheim court orchestra, Franz Danzi (1765-1816) never achieved the much sought-after operatic success he desired in Munich or Stuttgart. Today many of his stage works are lost and he is best known for a substantial body of chamber works, among them a dozen quintets for piano and wind instruments. This opening instalment of a projected series includes the only such work scored for piano, horn, clarinet, oboe and bassoon, the same combination as Mozart’s K452 and Beethoven’s op. 16. It is an expansive three-movement work published in Leipzig in 1810 as op. 41, at which time it was also issued as piano quintet with strings (op. 40), probably the original version. An attractive work, it is dominated by the piano part, which tends to leave the winds in a supporting role that never approaches the idiomatic freedom afforded them in Mozart’s masterpiece. It is given a fine performance, led by Steven Devine’s fluent playing on a Johann Fritz fortepiano of 1815 from the Finchcocks collection.
The generously timed CD also includes two substantial three-movement sonatas, one for piano and horn (in E flat, op. 28 published in 1804), the other for piano and clarinet in B flat (1817-18). For the most part op. 28 concentrates on the more lyrical, Romantic characteristics of the horn, while the fine piece for clarinet not unexpectedly contrasts the instrument’s ability to spin out long, liquid cantabiles with its agility Both sonatas feature spirited finales providing opportunities for the percussion additions to the Fritz. Anneke Scott (horn) and Jane Booth (clarinet) play them with considerable accomplishment, the disc as a whole being a persuasive opening to what promises to be an engaging series.
Andrew Benson-Wilson, Early Music Review
A product of the Mannheim school, Danzi moved with the court orchestra to Munich in 1784 eventually being elevated from cellist to assistant Kapellmeister, later moving to the courts at Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. His music is attractive and, on the strength of this recording, deserves to be better known. Sonatas for fortepiano and horn (Op.28) and clarinet (Op.54) feature Anneke Scott and Jane Booth, both on exquisite form. They are joined by James Eastaway (oboe) and Ursula Leveaux (bassoon) for the Quintet in D (Op 41). But in all the pieces it is the fortepiano that is in the lead, played here by Steven Devine. Incidentally the CD comes from the fledgling Devine Music label, the Devine being the said Steven. He also hosted the recording at the Finchcocks Collection of Keyboard Instruments (the home of the featured 1815 Fritz fortepiano) where he is Director of Development. This is an excellent recording of a fascinating repertoire from a fine, if perhaps not great, composer.