[Notes, Vol. 62, Issue. 3, March 2006, pp. 806–809: Review by Michael Talbot of Johann Joachim Quantz, Six Flute Quartets, and other chamber music by Quantz. Reproduced by permission of the Music Library Association, © MLA, 2006.
This review covers two separate publications: Steglein's edition of the six flute quartets by Quantz; and A-R's edition of seven trio sonatas, also by Quantz and also edited by Mary Oleskiewicz. Since the review treats each edition more or less discretely, only the portion dealing with the flute quartets is reproduced here.]
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Johann Joachim Quantz. Six Quartets for Flute, Violin, Viola, and Basso Continuo. Edited by Mary Oleskiewicz, with a basso continuo part realized by David Schulenberg. Ann Arbor, MI: Steglein Publishing, Inc., c2004. [Foreword, p. vi; pref., p. vii–xii; crit. report, p. xiii–xvii; score, 86 p.; and 5 parts. ISBN 0-9719854-3-X. $60 (set).]
The quartets (which, if one prefers, may also be called quadri or quatuors) represent Quantz at his very best without qualification. The composer writes with enthusiasm and evident insider knowledge about the genre in his Versuch (1752 edition, p. 302), and scholars had known for a long time that he himself had contributed to it; only no surviving examples were extant. All that changed when the collection of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, carried off as war booty at the end of the Second World War to lie undisturbed in Kiev for over half a century and restored to its owners only a few years ago, was examined and found to contain a set of six such quartets by Quantz.
The fascination of the genre lies partly in its flexibility. The ensemble, comprising three equal-ranking obbligato parts of contrasting timbre and a bass, can be treated either as a "trio plus one" or as a reduced orchestra in the manner of Antonio Vivaldi's chamber concertos. This allows the forms and styles of quartet movements to range at will between chamber (sonata, suite) and orchestral (concerto, overture) models, creating a wider spectrum of structural and stylistic possibilities than any other baroque instrumental genre enjoyed. Quantz opts for a fixed lineup of flute, violin, viola, and continuo. This combination happens not to be favored by Telemann, who in both quantitative and qualitative terms is the doyen of the baroque quartet, and offers interesting compositional possibilities. Quartets more commonly use three treble instruments or assign the third obbligato part to a bass instrument (cello, bass viol, or bassoon). Using a viola enables the composer for once to organize the contrapuntal and figurative interplay around three, rather than only two, octave registers. It also provides this instrument with opportunities for lyrical and virtuosic display rarely accorded to it during this period.
The trio sonatas provide little foretaste of the contrapuntal density and intensely worked thematicism of these pieces. The spirit and technique of Zelenka's music is still more apparent, even if Quantz's bouts of melancholy are less drawn out. Trademark features of the older composer, such as slowly moving triplets pitted against, or juxtaposed with, duplets and fierce rising tiratas, are borrowed with good effect. Some movements are positively Bachian in their aspirations. Take, for example, the opening Allegro of the sixth quartet (arguably the finest of the set), whose powerful main theme opens with a striding rising triad (prefiguring that of the "royal" theme used in the trio sonata of Bach's Musical Offering) treated in quick-fire canonic imitation after the manner of the opening of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto. The slow movement of the same quartet exhales the same world-weariness that we know from Bach's own quadro, the slow movement of the Second Brandenburg Concerto. Fortunately, Oleskiewicz has recently recorded, with a group of colleagues including harpsichordist David Schulenberg, the full set for Hungaroton Classic (HCD 32286 , CD), creating the best possible advertisement for Quantz and for her edition.
The fine Steglein edition of the quartets shares much of the approach and many of the qualities of the trios issued by A-R Editions. The placing of the figures underneath the bass and the slightly smaller size of the staves and notes, which reduces crowding on the page, make this a more pleasant score to read, even if one misses the brilliant whiteness of the A-R pages. Unfortunately, the same problems with inconsistent beaming of groups of eighths (this time not mentioned at all in the preface) and 6/8-style beaming in 3/4 meter recur, but the triplets, mercifully, use angle brackets. The critical report adopts a columnar layout, whose superiority over the A-R format (admittedly, at the cost of doubling the space needed) is very apparent. Much of the preface goes over the same ground as the introduction to the trio sonatas. I miss, however, some perspective on the history and development of the quartet genre; in particular, on the relationship of the early sonates en quatuor of Louis-Antoine Dornel (ca. 1680–after 1756) and the chamber concertos of Vivaldi to the German tradition. Even a brief comparison between Quantz's and Telemann's quartets would have been welcome.
The preface refers to Schulenberg's continuo realization, supplied with the separate continuo part (but not present in the score), remarking that it "avoids doubling certain major thirds that could sound out of tune against the purer tuning of the eighteenth-century flute" (p. xi). It would have been good to spend a couple of sentences spelling out what the problem is, but turning to the realization, it soon becomes apparent that in the E-flat-major Larghetto of the fourth quartet (in G minor), for example, the note D is avoided if it coincides with the flute's F. The resulting adjustment to the realization produces slightly bizarre results, but the point is that it is really unnecessary to take account of tuning problems with baroque instruments in an added part that is manifestly intended not for specialist professionals, for whom it will be a point of honor not to use a ready-made written realization, but for amateurs or less experienced professionals using modern instruments. The realizations themselves are rather disappointing: they lack melodic contour in the upper part and do not reinforce the rhythm of the bass sufficiently.
But all this is minor. Oleskiewicz and her two publishers are to be congratulated for having taken initiatives on Quantz's behalf that deserve to result in a major revaluation of his music. Certainly, I can see the quartets soon rivaling their counterparts in Telemann's Musique de table for popularity, and viola players tugging at their colleagues' sleeves for a chance to prove their mettle.
University of Liverpool
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