EXPLORING MUSIC" A DIVERTING RECORDING
The MHS Review 396 Vol. 11, No. 18, 1988
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The year 1986 marked the 200th anniversary of Carl Maria von Weber's birth, but that milestone inspired nothing like the intensive retrospective which Beethoven, Bach, and Handel received when their bi- and tricentenaries rolled around. Weber's music isn't on the same level as theirs, of course, but he is generally considered the first great German romantic composer, and he was a wildly successful and influential musician who virtually created German romantic opera and profoundly influenced Wagner.
But he is known to us today through precious little music. Weber generally shows up on symphony concerts in the first ten minutes or so, represented by the overture to one of his three best-known operas: Der Freiscbutz, Oberon, or Euryantbe. But the operas that follow these magnificent overtures are seldom heard onstage or on records (with the exception of Der Freiscbutz, the most popular German opera--in Germany).
As for Weber's non-operatic music, it's even less known: two each of symphonies, piano concerti, and clarinet concerti; various short works for orchestra; piano works including three sonatas and the famous "Invitation to the Dance"; and nine chamber works. Only indefatigable record collectors are apt to know much about any of these. Weber's instrumental music is generally not as imaginative as are his operas. While there are no long-lost masterpieces on this recording, it's nice to make the acquaintance of those works which do appear.
The four "progressive" flute sonatas are slight indeed, but jolly and tuneful; their unenthusiastic composer claimed they "cost more sweat than many a symphony." Originally written for violin, they sound so well-suited to the flute that it's surprising more flutists have not recorded these engaging, and not terribly difficult, little pieces. The slow movements, whose cantabile writing occasionally foretells the operatic scenas to come from the composer's pen, are especially pleasing.
The Trio for flute, cello, and piano (1819) was originally conceived for this unusual but sonorous combination, and has become one of the most familiar of Weber's chamber pieces. It's simultaneously ambitious and loose-jointed. The final movement employs a striking and infectious accelerando, but the work's character is primarily melancholy, and the piece grows on you with repetition.
A recent all-Beethoven chamber recital on "period instruments" in my town proved that our conception of the time period of "early music" is getting later and later. The fortepiano, gut-stringed instruments, and wooden flute worked nicely enough in early Beethoven, I remember, and the combination works even more nicely in the nearly contemporaneous (and somewhat better-mannered) Weber pieces here. The breathy tone of the flute and lighter sound of the fortepiano match the innocence of the sonatas beautifully, but can also cope with the Trio's more demanding writing. The whole thing adds up to a diverting recording which sheds a bit of extra light on one of music history's little-known famous composers.
Review of CARL MARIA VON WEBER Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano, J. 259 Sonatas for Flute and Piano: page 9