0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.5 in B minor, Op.106
Symphony No.7 in G minor, WoO/01
Overture No.16 in A minor, Op.238

Das Neue Orchester
Christoph Spering

Recorded 15-18 November 2004 in Studio Stolbergstrasse Cologne

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: November 2006
CD No: CPO 777 139-2
Duration: 68 minutes

It is always intriguing when a company is adventurous enough to promote a neglected composer. Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda (1801-1866) deserves greater currency and his talent is clearly not represented by his popularity. Kalliwoda was a citizen of Prague but the conventional use of the Germanised spelling of his name is explained by his tenure at the court in Donaueschingen from 1822 to 1854 and his subsequent move to Karlsruhe for the remainder of his life. There is much of the German tradition in this music. Of his better-known contemporaries the full-blooded Romantic symphonic structures of Schumann are recalled. On the other hand Kalliwoda differs from Schumann in his individual approach to symphonic form. Where Schumann and his contemporary Mendelssohn had great respect for classical symphonic architecture, Kalliwoda seems to be reaching out to a more individual and perhaps more Romantic approach to conventional forms. In particular the openings of both his symphonies place great weight on the slow introductions. In fact these sections are extremely dramatic and are so extensive that they almost act as replacement slow movements.

Symphony No.5 begins with answering fanfares from far left and far right by horns and trumpets and continues with dark episodes, one of which is reminiscent of Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene from “Der Freischütz”. By the time the change of tempo to Allegro con brio has been reached we are already nearly half of the way through the first movement. Kalliwoda’s drama is then played out by using blocks of melody ending with a triumphal coda – a grand finish rather than a summing up of previous themes. This unusual approach to symphonic construction continues in the scherzo, which is dark and threatening rather than playful. A lighter horn-led section equates to the conventional idea of a trio but darkness and drama creep in and the return of the opening theme is a mere reference rather than a repeat. The slow movement, Allegretto grazioso, is light and jolly and scarcely any longer than the introduction to the opening movement. The finale is as multi-melodied but loose in form. It opens with delightful fierceness but continues with several optimistic themes.

The form of Symphony No.7 is a little simpler but again emphasis is on the complex and serious introduction with its threatening soft timpani rolls. A hint of Schumann again creeps in here and there, but in the Allegro non tanto Kalliwoda reverts to more conventional form – there is even a repeated exposition and the coda becomes suddenly rapid. The bouncy scherzo is full of happy fragments. Those requiring the equivalent to a trio are directed to the middle section marked out by solo drum strokes at either end; the movement then ends suddenly with unnerving swiftness. Once again the slow movement is unconventional – this time Kalliwoda provides a measured grand march – starting and ending quietly (a form sometimes known as a ‘patrol’) with plenty of Spohr-like melodies for clarinet. The movement runs straight into the finale, which is serious but rather discursive.

By this time the listener will have become used to Kalliwoda’s musical philosophy and it is no surprise to find that in the Overture the composer once again concentrates dark thoughts and contrasting outbursts in the long, slow introduction. There is certainly grandeur in these serious moments and the subsequent Allegro is no less challenging than the equivalent sections of the symphonies.

Christoph Spering uses a standard-sized chamber orchestra (strings 8; 6; 4; 4; 3) but he always elicits a big sound – especially in the more fully scored Overture, which requires four horns and three trombones. Kalliwoda uses the timpani to great effect and Spering balances these instruments very well – they are not always used for grand effects and I appreciate their clarity when Kalliwoda writes subtle, quiet parts for them. The spacious acoustic is just right for this music and does not hamper the orchestral detail.

Kalliwoda is not a great neglected genius but he writes very good orchestral music. He does not tread where Schumann, Mendelssohn or Spohr had not already trod, but his highly original approach to shape and form is intriguing. This is music for listening to.

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