Kraus: Concertos for viola and orchestra

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COMPOSERS: Kraus
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Kraus: Concertos for viola and orchestra
WORKS: Concertos for viola and orchestra: in G major, VB 153a; in C major, VB 153b; in E flat, VB 153c
PERFORMER: David Aaron Carpenter (viola), Ritta Pesola (cello); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Janne Nisonen
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1193-2

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Joseph Martin Kraus was highly regarded by Gluck, who commended the originality of his ‘great style’, and Haydn, who equated him with Mozart. He went to Sweden in his early thirties in 1778 and despite the eventual patronage of Gustavus III never achieved great international repute. He has only recently been credited with these Concertos, known but misattributed until an American musicologist recognised his handwriting in a pre‑publication manuscript.

Their Haydnesque scale and formal clarity suggest they’re all early works. There’s a passionately Sturm und Drang quality to the bleak opening unisons, but Kraus was clearly a fine melodist; all three slow movements include touching lyrical passages, beautifully drawn out and shaped by David Aaron Carpenter’s solo viola. The second Concerto (C major) explores the weightier side of the orchestra, with some challenging solo writing that contains broken chords and rich double-stopping.

The last work (G major), for me the best of the three, includes so much obbligato cello that it’s virtually a double concerto, except for a curious cello reticence in the first movement’s development section. The soloists’ duetting in the minor-mode slow movement is a moment of true inspiration, though all three Concertos are never less than charming, especially in their light-hearted final rondos.

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George Pratt