Volume 75, Summer 2019
Christian Michael Wolff Concerto in G major for flute, strings and basso continuo
ed. MICHAEL TALBOT
Edition HH, HH467.FSC, Launton, 2018
ISMN 979 0 708146 74 2
Edition HH rightly have a reputation for attractive publications and this is another, produced with their usual care and attention to detail and complimented by Professor Michael Talbot’s exemplary scholarship. Christian Michael Wolff (1707-89) is likely to be a new name to the majority of flute players, so the appearance of this concerto is as intriguing as it is welcome. Talbot provides an excellent introduction, in English and German, as well as an editorial method and textual notes, which supply just the right amount of information while also giving further food for thought.
Wolff was an organist and composer in the city of his birth, Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland). Although he had nothing published until the 1770s, Talbot suggests that Wolff began to compose during the 1730s. This flute concerto is one of a number of works thought to have been in circulation in manuscript form in the early 1740s, but not published until now. (Another is Wolff’s flute concerto, in C major, also issued by Edition HH under Talbot’s editorship.)
Concertos where the composer was not known to play the solo instrument invariably invite the question, who was the intended soloist? It may have been someone in Wolff’s home city, but the information that Wolff spent three years in Berlin from 1729 to 1732 raises other intriguing possibilities. J. J. Quantz (1697-1773) moved to Berlin to enter the service of Frederick the Great in 1741, but his visits to teach Frederick as a young prince also began in 1729. That Quantz knew Wolff’s music is evident from the Solfeggi, the record of material Quantz used in his teaching, which was probably compiled between about 1729 and 1742. It consists of exercises, some substantial, others little more than fragments and Quantz includes extracts from the works of other composers to supplement his own. Eagle-eyed flute players can find selections from Wolff’s flute duets, possibly the op. 1 set that were eventually published in Berlin in 1778. Even though Wolff’s concertos may have post-dated the Solfeggi, it must remain a possibility that they fell into Quantz’s hands and, if they did, that they were heard at the regular evening concerts at Frederick’s court, played by the king himself under Quantz’s supervision.
This G major concerto is a fine work and worthy of such attention, with much to challenge the soloist and delight the audience. The variety of rhythm, detailed articulation and imaginative use of instrumental combinations for the accompanying passages result in a satisfying and well-crafted concerto. The movements comprise a bright and elegant Moderato, a mournful, expressive Largo and a lively, dance-inspired Allegretto.
Wolff keeps to the customary range of the flute (d' to e''') while the virtuosic writing requires great precision and agility from the soloist to negotiate quick changes of figuration, articulation and ornamentation. The traditional fermata inviting the soloist to provide a short cadenza appears only in the second movement, but there is no reason why a solo flourish should not be added at the corresponding places in the outer movements, although this has not been indicated editorially.
Most of the extant concerto sets of the first half of the eighteenth century survive with only one of each accompanying part, but whether this should be taken to indicate that they would have been played with one player per part is a much-discussed point. It would surely have depended on what was expedient: the availability of players, the occasion, or the venue, for example. Parts were marked with Solo and Tutti to indicate to the player when the soloist had an exposed part or else that the soloist was part of the ensemble. Talbot informs us that these indications were included only in the flute part of this manuscript. While I have seen only the score, a version for flute with keyboard reduction is available from Edition HH for £12.50 and a set of instrumental parts for £35. Early flute concertos of this quality are thin on the ground and this is a gem. I recommend it very highly.
We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.