Sperger: Double Bass Concertos - Krigovský
Challenge Classics CC 72915
Classical - Orchestral
Sperger: Double Bass Concertos
Ján Krigovský (double bass)
Collegium Wartberg 430
The first question to ask must be: how could it possibly come about that certain essential works by a composer which display no flaw or failure in musical conception or compositional execution stayed dormant in libraries for well over two hundred years and had to wait so long for publication and audience attention?
Three concertos for double bass and orchestra by Johann Matthias Sperger, who was not just a composer but also the most renowned double bassist of the 18th century, performed and recorded here by orchestra and soloist according to their original scores. The decision was taken here to select, from Sperger’s vast legacy of compositions – which includes no less than eighteen double bass concertos – just those early works called No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. These works are all products of the years of Sperger’s first employment as a double bassist, between 1777 and 1783, in the court orchestra of the archbishop of Hungary, the duke Joseph Graf von Batthyány in Pressburg. They date specifically from the years 1778 and 1779.
Sperger’s treatment of the solo double bass in a way quite new in his day as well as the execution of the orchestral part recall the Cello Concertos of no less a figure than Joseph Haydn. Already just the tonal range demanded here, spanning four and a half octaves, shatters all previous conceptions and lets the double bass enter those cantabile spheres once peculiar to the cello or violin. Melody and virtuosity leave nothing to be desired and demand of the soloist true mastery of his instrument.
All three double bass concertos on this CD are three-movement concertos. In all of them the first and third movements are spirited, each with its respectively striking theme, and virtuosically constructed, the outer movements in all cases employing wind instruments: 2 oboes and 2 horns, and in Concerto No. 3 also kettledrums and trumpets. The great soloist’s idea of enriching the orchestral colours of Concerto No. 4 with a dulcimer must be seen to be born out of the partly folkloric quality of this music. Sperger has the slow second movements accompanied by strings alone, so as to allow the solo double bass room to develop its melodies. These movements emanate a sense of placid contemplation, forming a counterpoint to the forward-pressing vigour of the outer movements.
The soloist uses gut strings, as was common practice at the time of the works’ composition well over two hundred years ago, bringing out the warm sound of the instruments. Used in this recording were: for Concerto No. 2 an Anton Posch double bass (1736, Vienna); for Concerto No. 3 one by Johann Jacobus Ertl (1789, Pressburg) and for Concerto No. 4 one of an unnamed manufacturer (ca. 1810, Vienna). The chamber orchestra Collegium Wartberg 430, led by the soloist Ján Krigovský, provides highly authentic accompaniment. To do justice to history and for the pleasure of today’s audience the present recordings were made in the same auditorium as Johann Matthias Sperger first presented these concertos in: the “Hall of Mirrors” in the Primate’s Palace of Bratislava (formerly Pressburg).
Three concertos for double bass and orchestra by Johann Matthias Sperger, who was not just a composer but also the most renowned double bassist of the 18th century, performed and recorded here by orchestra and soloist according to their original scores. These works are all products of the years of Sperger’s first employment as a double bassist, between 1777 and 1783, in the court orchestra of the archbishop of Hungary, the duke Joseph Graf von Batthyány in Pressburg. They date specifically from the years 1778 and 1779.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 8, 2022
On Sunday the 3rd of April last, a concert took place in the Katharinensaal of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Rostock, Germany, marking the 2022 finals of the International J.M. Sperger Contest for Double Bass. The four finalists had to play two concerti by the Czech-born Austrian composer, Johannes Matthias Sperger. Numbers 2 (as recorded here) and 17 (not sure if ever recorded). For completeness’ sake, the winner was David Santos Luque from Spain.
Composers of double base concerti that usually spring to mind, like Bottesini, Ditters von Dittersdorf, and Hoffmeister, cannot compete with the real champion, Sperger, who wrote no less than 18. Only few recordings exist in the RBCD domain. We must, therefore, be particularly grateful that Challenge Classics has now released three of them on SACD, two of which are world premiere recordings. A forgotten composer? Not in Rostock. Or was it that his double bass solo parts are too demanding? Sperger was a Viennese virtuoso who composed for himself to shine. A Paganini on the double bass? Maybe even better because, unlike Paganini, the orchestral parts are more than just accompaniment. In their mastery they form an integral and evenly weighted part of the overall scoring.
Whatever the case, here there are three of them, played by a double bass player that can proudly stand up against all competition. In my over-sensitive pitch judgement, only few bassists can play 100 percent in tune. I’m pleased to assert that I have, on the basis of this excellent recording, listed Ján Krigovský, as one who can. What a wonderful player he is. Even in the most difficult passages, he plays with such ease as though anyone else can do it. Reading Klaus Trumpf’s detailed liner notes makes one privy to Sperger as a person, a composer, and exceptionally gifted soloist. It needs an equally gifted player, like Krigovský, to give these concerti the allure they deserve.
Another thing that, upon first listening, immediately caught my ear, is the sound of the orchestra. Far removed from the polished and fast-moving ensembles that are ‘en vogue’ these days, Krigovský and the members of the Collegium Wartberg 430 (The notes do not mention what the 430 stands for) recreate a strikingly authentic copy of what may have been the sound in the days of Sperger (1750-1812). In that same spirit, the recording was made in the ‘Spiegelsaal, Rathaus Bratislava, Slovakia, by Northstar Recording Services (Bert van der Wolf) as faithful as the Hall of Mirrors permits.
All I can say is: Do try it out. It is worth your while on all counts.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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