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FBO's 'Mozart's Mannheim' is a dynamic sequel to the famous Archiv L'Ecole de Mannheim box set / LEDEVOIR

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Mozart’s Mannheim has been carefully curated to give 21st-century listeners an idea of the sound world experienced by Mozart when he visited Mannheim in the late 1770s. The southern German city’s legendary court orchestra made it a go-to destination for 18th-century cultural pilgrims and the Freiburger Barockorchester (FBO) has chosen to paint a musical portrait of Mannheim for its debut Deutsche Grammophon album. Mozart’s Mannheim presents a variety of orchestral and chamber pieces by Cannabich, Danner, Holzbauer, Toeschi and Vogler – including four world premiere recordings – as well as two key works composed by Mozart while he was in the city. The album will be released on 19 May 2023 and the FBO will perform most of its repertoire on 20 May at Schwetzingen Palace, as part of this year’s Schwetzingen Festival.

“The Mannheim court of Elector Carl Theodor was famous for its vast orchestra in which the very best instrumentalists of their day played together,” explains Martin Bail, Dramaturge of the FBO. “That’s why we decided to begin our partnership with DG with music created in Mannheim around the time of Mozart’s visit in 1777-78.”

Dr Rüdiger Thomsen-Fürst of the Forschungszentrum Hof | Musik | Stadt in Schwetzingen, an expert on Mannheim’s orchestra and its composers, followed the evidence trail left by Mozart’s letters to his family and used the insights they contain about his relationship with fellow composers and rivals to shape the FBO’s programme. “Mozart’s correspondence reveals how he encountered the leading musicians of the Mannheim court orchestra,” he notes. “There were those such as Cannabich with whom he became friends, those from whom he remained distant and those such as Vogler for whom he harboured a certain animosity. His letters also tell us something about the music he discovered in Mannheim and the works he wrote or performed there. The music we’ve chosen therefore represents an attempt to allow today’s listeners to hear something of what he heard in his day.” 

Having first passed through Mannheim as a touring child prodigy, Mozart returned in October 1777 at the age of 21. He was instantly enchanted by the power and presence of the Mannheim orchestra, which as well as being famed for its exceptional size and virtuosity, was responsible for developing an array of arresting dynamic effects. Mozart remained in the city until the following March, during which time he composed sonatas for violin and keyboard, songs, works for solo piano, concert arias, quartets for strings and wind instruments, and his first concerto for flute and orchestra, among other works.

Mozart’s Mannheim opens with the Overture to Georg Joseph “Abbé” Vogler’s Der Kaufmann von Smyrna as Mozart might have heard it in February 1778, before continuing with Cannabich’s Symphony No. 55 in C major, a dazzling display of the tonal shadings and dramatic effects and contrasts that hallmarked the Mannheim sound. Its orchestration includes clarinets, an addition to the woodwind section that particularly impressed Mozart when he heard the orchestra perform. The symphony is followed by Christian Danner’s elegant Violin Concerto, written soon after its composer began taking lessons in Mannheim with Mozart, and played by the FBO’s joint Artistic Director Gottfried von der Goltz.

The outstanding quality of music made by Mannheim composers is further reflected in two strikingly different works: Carl Joseph Toeschi’s Sextet for flute, oboe, violin, viola, bassoon and cello and the Overture to Ignaz Holzbauer’s singspiel Günther von Schwarzburg, a performance of which led Mozart to write to his father Leopold, amazed at “how much fire there is in this music”. 

The album is rounded off by two works by Mozart himself. Soprano Nicole Chevalier performs the concert aria Alcandro lo confesso … Non sò d’onde vieni, first performed by Mozart’s future sister in law Aloysia in early 1778. “With this final aria,” wrote Mozart to his father, “my dear Mlle Weber brought incredible honour both to herself and to me.” Like the aria, his Symphony in C K208/102 was premiered in the home of fellow musician Cannabich. Its first two movements had begun life in 1775 as the Sinfonia and opening aria respectively of the serenata Il re pastore, while the finale was newly composed in Mannheim.

“What Mozart learned in Mannheim cannot be overstated in terms of its value to his later life,” concludes Martin Bail. “After this time, he reached new levels of quality, individuality and originality. The FBO and Deutsche Grammophon have followed Mozart to Mannheim to create a programme of the music he heard and learned from there. What better place to begin our collaboration?”

LEDEVOIR's Christopher Huss writes….Big news: the famous Freiburger Barockorchester is back with Deutsche Grammophon and its first CD was released on May 19. The presence of the yellow label clearly endorses the removal of the Archiv label, previously associated with DG's baroque recordings. The program recalls what the Concerto Köln did at Teldec. Martin Sauer, the artistic and sound thinker of Teldec 25 years ago, is moreover the artistic director of this recording which offers world premieres of the overture to Merchant of Smyrna by Vogler, Symphony No. 55 by Cannabich, a violin concerto by Christian Danner (played stiffly) and a sextet by Carl Joseph Toeschi, set against an overture by Holzbauer, theConcert Air K. 294 and Mozart's Symphony K. 208/212 . The object is to explore the music that nourished the best orchestra in Germany when Mozart visited Mannheim in 1777-1778. In fact, this CD is a dynamic and successful sequel to the famous Archiv L'École de Mannheim box set by Camerata Bern, released in 1980.