Joseph Martin Kraus: Fiskarena (The Fisherman Ballet); Pantomimes
Something smells fishy around here, and it just might be Joseph Martin Kraus' ballet "Fiskarena." This is one of about four ballets he is known to have composed, and in recording it, Kraus' two early pantomimes and his inserts for Gluck's ballet "Armide" Petter Sundkvist and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra come dangerously close to exhausting Kraus' slim output for orchestra on Naxos' Joseph Martin Kraus: Fiskarena. While the libretto for "Fiskarena" has not survived, its content may be deduced as it was apparently based on a French opera called "Les Pêcheurs" in which well-to-do merchant Herr Ambrosius will not allow Sailor Jack to marry his daughter, so Sailor Jack sets Ambrosius up in an intrigue involving some gypsies. The ballet retains more than an average share of what one would expect to be its retinue of humor; among its 20 numbers is a bit entitled "Anglois," which turns out to be a slightly modified version of the familiar "Sailor's Hornpipe." While "Fiskarena" is not drawn from the stormy side of Kraus' personality, as are the symphonies, it is a charming and amusing work whose immediacy and accomplishment will put many similar eighteenth century ballets on the ropes; one is inclined to welcome it to the recorded catalog.
The two "Pantomimes" are among the earliest works in Kraus' extant catalog, and they are more or less indistinguishable in form from the three-movement symphonies or overtures common to the middle of the eighteenth century, but still stand out owing to their energy and charisma, particularly the one in D. The insert music for "Armide" is direct evidence of Kraus' great admiration for Gluck and French style in general; the second movement could almost be "Dance of the Furies, Jr." While Naxos' Joseph Martin Kraus: Fiskarena may not represent Kraus' achievements in the main, it provides a fascinating and highly listenable sidelight on his activities, and as usual, Sundkvist and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra provide dedicated and energetic readings of these previously unknown scores.