JOSEPH WÖLFL: The String Quartets – String Quartet in E flat major Op. 30 No. 1; String Quartet in C major Op. 30 No. 2; String Quartet in D major Op. 30 No. 3 – Soloists: Sergei Filchenko (violin) / Dmitry Sinkovsky (violin) / Sergei Tischenko (viola) / Pavel Serbin (cello) Caro Mitis multichannel SACD CM 0032006; 70:12 *** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Joseph Wölfl was born in 1773 in Salzburg and had lessons from Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn and once had quite a reputation as a pianist and composer, taking part in competitions at the keyboard with Beethoven himself to much public acclaim. Beethoven appears to have been the superior player
In 1790 he went to Vienna to visit Mozart who got him a position with Count Oginski in Warsaw where he remained for five years before returning to Vienna. He wrote operas, one of which, Der Höllenberg, was composed with Schikaneder, Mozart’s friend and librettist for The Magic Flute. Chamber and instrumental works were dedicated to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In 1798 and newly-married he embarked on a huge and highly successful tour of Europe and ended up in Paris in 1801 acclaimed in one newspaper as “the most thrilling pianist in Europe”. In 1805 he left Paris suddenly, the excellent booklet essay making some guesses for the reasons for this, and eventually ended up in London, where his career continued but with less success. He died suddenly in 1812 having written a broad corpus of works, several operas and ballets, three symphonies, seven piano concertos, and a good deal of chamber and instrumental music, including eighteen string quartets.
Much of the above was new to me, and it was interesting to listen to work by a composer with a wide reputation during his lifetime but who is hardly known now. Indeed, the quartets presented here are all world première recordings. They date from 1805, the year of Wölfl’s difficulties in Paris, and are each in four movements, quick movements beginning and end frame a slow one and a minuet.
There are plenty of good ideas in the writing, imaginative canons, polyphony and unexpected key changes. Despite this, the sum total is somewhat lacking, leaving academically interesting but ultimately unsatisfying works, and regrettably I do not feel these were buried treasures.
The four string players are usually to be found in the Pratum Intregum Orchestra – the “unmown meadow” of neglected Baroque and Classical works being the staple diet – and play with affection for these quartets. There is a certain amount of huffing and puffing audible from at least one of the players, and the predictable ballooning of some of the phrasing gives an unfortunate cumulative effect.
Recording quality is excellent as is the norm for this label, the recording made by Polyhymnia sounding superb in all formats. The booklet has an excellent essay by Tatiana Sokorina and is beautifully presented. This release is well worth investigating by those interested in the byways of the classical era.
— Peter Joelson