Johann Helmich Roman: Drottningholmsmusiken

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ROMAN Drottningholmsmusiken Göran Karlsson, cond; Ensemble 1700 Lund (period instruments) CPO 777 589 (62:12)

Just last issue I reviewed the first disc of Johan Helmich Roman’s Drottningholmsmusiken to appear in more than a decade. That production on BIS with Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is, as I said, quite decent, although my own personal preference was for the livelier, if sometimes musically flawed, earlier renditions by Nils Erik Sparf and Claude Génetay. That was not to say that Manze’s version performed on modern instruments is deficient, and certainly it is the one to get if you want a good, solid performance of this seminal work written in 1744 for the wedding of Swedish crown prince Adolph Fredrik and Prussian princess Louisa (sorry, in Swedish, Lovisa) Ulrika by an aging court Kapellmeister coping with personal and health issues. Now, within the space of a month or so a second recording has appeared, this one by a new group, the Ensemble 1700 Lund, formed by Per Bengtsson and Lars Henriksson back in 2005.

It is about time that Skåne had its own period-instrument group, particularly since Lund University had in its library one of the largest collections of 18th-century music found anywhere. This was gathered by two music directors, Friedrich Kraus (no relation to his contemporaneous colleague and Swedish court Kapellmeister Joseph Martin Kraus) and Wenster between 1750 and 1800 and contains unique scores and parts of works found nowhere else. There are, for example, the sole surviving sources of symphonies by Italians Antonio Brioschi, Fortunato Chelleri, and Giuseppe Arena. Since its founding, the Ensemble 1700 Lund has quietly been building its reputation on its home turf, and with this recording is, as far as I know, making its international debut. That it has chosen one of Sweden’s best-known and most important works for this is significant. It implies that the group is to be a presence from this point forward. The excellent program notes by Swedish scholar Jan Ling also take a different tack, given that audiences surely do not need yet another extensive discussion of the work itself. Following a brief (and well-written) history, Ling poses a series of three questions to the musicians themselves, trying to see how they react to this suite of 25 movements. The answers are illuminating and make fascinating reading (although I won’t spoil things by giving away what they say).

As for the performance itself, conductor Göran Karlsson has certainly imbued the spirit of the work into his ensemble. His tempos are quite variable and his interpretations bring the music alive. There is the spark and energy, even in the slow movements, that I personally was missing in Manze’s rendition. The nuances of phrasing bring out some hidden delights, such as the gentle oboe pastoral minuet (No. 2) or the soft flute line (No. 14) that flows evenly and rhythmically. The raucous parts with the horns and trumpets are rousing, if sometimes a bit overblown, but even the edgy power gives the impression of a true outdoors piece. One will be hard-pressed not to think of this as a sort of prequel to Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music composed some five years later, even though there are moments of galant musical modernity. This mixed style is delineated nicely in this recording. Thus I must abandon my preference for the older recordings in favor of this one. It is truly an embarrassment of riches to have two fine new recordings of this piece; one only needs to choose one on the basis of one’s own preferences and not on lack of quality. Now, the Ensemble 1700 Lund needs to be encouraged to explore and record some of the treasures that await resurrection in its own back yard. We shall be the richer for it.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777589-2

  • UPC: 761203758920

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Johan Helmich Roman

  • Conductor: Goran Karlsson

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ensemble 1700 Lund