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CD Review

Joseph Leopold Eybler

Chamber Works

  • Quintetto in D Major
  • String Trio Op. 2
Quintetto Momento Musicale
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG6031321-2
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You have to sympathize with a composer who is best known for not completing the work of a fellow composer. Such is the fate of Joseph Eybler. Upon Mozart's death, his wife Constanze asked Eybler to complete the famous Requiem. Eybler eventually decided to hand the assignment back to Constanze, and Franz Süssmyer then completed the work.

As for Eybler's own musical artistry, his works represent the highest level of 2nd tier Classical era composers. Put another way, only Haydn and Mozart outshine this Viennese composer who was born into a musical family. Eybler's father was a choir director who gave the lad his entry-level musical training that was followed up with lessons at St. Stephen's Boys' College in Vienna. At the age of twelve, Eybler began studying under Georg Albrechtsberger who declared his pupil the greatest musical genius in Vienna excepting for Mozart. Additional admiration came from Franz Haydn who praised Eybler's outstanding talents and knowledge of music theory.

Eybler's first professional appointment came in 1792 as the choir director at the Karmeliterkirche in Vienna where he also performed his own masses. Two years later, he took the same position at the Schottenkloster and remained there for the next thirty years. Eybler became closely connected to the Empress Maria Theresa who commissioned numerous works and appointed him music teacher to the imperial family. Also helpful in Eybler's career was his working relationship with Mozart who had Eybler in charge of rehearsals of his opera Cosí fan tutte. Eybler's musical career came to an abrupt halt in 1833 as the result of a stroke, and he died thirteen years later at the age of eighty-one.

Obviously, having Albrechtsberger, Haydn, Mozart and the Empress in his corner was a major career enhancement for Eybler. Judging from the two works on the MD&G disc, he fully deserved the praise and patronage. Although Eybler's sacred choral music is his main calling card, the chamber works reveal a master of musical form who wrote delightful music with fetching melodies and a sense of natural progression.

The Quintet in D Major is rather unusual in that a double bass is employed instead of a 2nd viola, and there are two Minuets. Essentially in five movements, the work begins with a dignified and sweet introductory Adagio followed by a rousing Allegro in sonata form. The first Menuetto has three trio sections; although the construction is simple, Eybler presents toe-tapping music that charms throughout. The ensuing Andante has lovely melodic lines, and the 2nd Menuetto offers two trio sections as enticing as the 1st Menuetto. Eybler wraps things up with an Adagio-Allegro vivace of great exuberance. An excellent work, the Quintet does present evidence that Eybler was not quite a musical genius. This is most apparent in the 1st Movement Allegro where the development section is a pedestrian and tedious re-shaping of the thematic material in the exposition.

My warmest affection goes to the Trio in C Major which has four movements with just one Menuetto. Its construction displays an expertise similar to the Quintet, but the melodies are more compelling, development sections possess greater inspiration, harmonic invention is stronger, and the work is generally less indebted to the music of Haydn and Mozart. This is delectable music representing Eybler at the height of his powers. I should report that neither the Quintet nor the Trio plumbs any emotional depths, but its upbeat nature and comely melodic lines are irresistible.

As fine as Eybler's music may be, the real stars of the production are the performers and sonics. Quintett Momento Musicale was formed in 1992 by young musicians from Leipzig and Hallé/Saale. Currently, each member has teaching positions in chamber music at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, and the group often performs in concert in the major music centers in Germany. A modern instrument quintet, it offers historically informed, stylish, and perfectly balanced performances having minimum vibrato and a stately/graceful demeanor ideal for Eybler's chamber works. Usually I feel that period instrument groups present a more idiomatic picture of Classical era music, but I doubt that the interpretations of Quintett Momento Musicale can be improved upon. I will surely be following the future paths of this exceptional instrumental group and intend on snapping up any future recordings. As for the sonics, they are fabulous and feature a wonderful depth and clarity along with separate sound corridors for each instrument that allows listeners to savor every musical line of Eybler's music.

Don's Conclusions: This new MD&G recording is exemplary in all respects. Anyone who loves the chamber music of Mozart and Haydn will likely derive great satisfaction from the music and performances, even those who favor period instruments in this type of repertoire. Quintett Momento Musicale also has an MD&G disc on the market of Georges Onslow string quintets that I urge readers to investigate. This is a marvelous chamber music group, and the Eybler disc is undoubtedly one of my best discoveries of the year.

Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz