An almost exact contemporary of Mozart, Kraus spent his career in Sweden, where he composed prolifically in all forms, with a focus on Swedish opera. Kraus’s German songs reflect his interest both in the Lied and German poetry of the Enlightenment, particularly the popular work of Matthias Claudius.
A pianist whose work transcended time, Lili Kraus was a Hungarian musician with a love for Viennese classics. Kraus made a career from an early age, performing internationally from the age of 18 and becoming a professor at age 20. She was not only a great solo artist, but was a renowned collaborator.
This is a nearly complete recording of Mozart's solo keyboard music, including an entire disc of small variation sets and the like but omitting the incomplete but fascinating Piano Sonata in F major, K. 533. That work is often completed with the similar-in-spirit Rondo in F major, K. 494, but perhaps that was less settled in 1954, when Lili Kraus made these recordings. It's too bad, because one wonders what her interpretation of K. 533 would have been like – in many of Mozart's sonatas, Kraus creates a sharp differentiation between tuneful music and scalar or arpeggiated passagework, but that highly contrapuntal sonata is in a class by itself and doesn't structurally revolve around that distinction.
This is an interesting addition to the Handel catalogue, a newly reconstructed version of a pasticcio that survives only in part. The work of course recycles music from other (and often rather obscure, like Berenice) Handel operas but interestingly incorporates some departures from the opera seria norm in the inclusion of several choruses - probably, as the notes indicate, an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the English oratorios. The notes also go briefly discuss the surviving text, the need to make editorial choices from other operas when the evidence is conjectural, and the composition of new recitatives for Acts II and III since the originals are lost.
Eve Queler has her shortcomings as a conductor. But a conductor's main task is to make a performance happen, to bring all the elements together, and Ms. Queler has been doing this with scrappy determination for 30 years in her role as music director of the Opera Orchestra of New York. Her invaluable mission has been to present concert performances of little-known or problematic operas with the best casts available.
Joseph Martin Kraus was born in the same year as Mozart and died only one year after him; like him, he was also a musician who revealed his extraordinary talent at an early age. It is only in recent years, however, that Kraus has again begun to receive somewhat more attention as a multitalented artistic personality. Born in Miltenberg am Main, Kraus enjoyed a career that took him to Stockholm as court music director to the music-loving King Gustavus III. In their originality his sacred compositions tower above the conventional liturgical repertoire produced in Southern Germany during the second half of the eighteenth century. He focused his energies on the full exploitation of tone-color resources. In his Miserere he skillfully endows the narrative sequence of verses with a dramaturgy animated by the alternation of instrumental groupings and compositional styles. In his Requiem he again demonstrates a very individual expressive will. Even though Kraus, a Stürmer und Dränger who was barely twenty years old at the time, must be classified as a beginner, he was not a minor leaguer – and the moving effect produced by his works continues to be irresistible even today.