Symphony in D, Op.40
Symphony in C minor, Op.102
Symphony in F, Op.24/3 (F5)
Symphony in C, Op.13/16 No. 5 (C5)
Symphony in G, Op.13/16 No.4 (G5)
Symphony in D ‘La Chasse’ (D10)
Symphony in C, Op.66 (B154)
Symphony in G, Op.68 (B156)
Symphony in D minor (B147)
Symphony in D
Symphony in G minor
Symphony in F
Symphony in D, Op.36
Symphony in C minor, Op.11
Grand Characteristic Symphony for the Peace with the French Republic, Op.31
London Mozart Players
Recorded between 1993 & 2001 in either St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, and All Saints’ Church, Tooting, London
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: CHANDOS
CHAN 10628 (5 CDs)
Duration: 5 hours 18 minutes
This re-assemblage of recordings in Chandos’s “Contemporaries of Mozart” series makes for an ideal album and the accompanying notes are immensely informative; each composer is placed in historical context and every work is described in detail. Robin Golding is the writer and his expertise on music of this period makes his 14-page annotation an outstanding example of the art of critical analysis.
Franz Krommer (1759-1831) was born in Moravia as František Vincenc Kramář but used this German version of his name during his long residence in Vienna. Some attention has been paid to his large output of works for wind instruments and various recordings are available. A few concertos have also emerged including two delightful examples for two clarinets, but little attention has been given to his symphonies.
Matthias Bamert has chosen two impressive, fully-scored examples. The D major dates from 1803 and uses the same instruments as those required by Beethoven in his Fourth Symphony. The introduction is dramatic with overtones of the darker music in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. The sound of full orchestra is fairly Beethovenian but Krommer is less imaginative in his use of individual instruments and somehow the melodies are predictable. In particular there is a somewhat banal tune for the second subject of the first movement; on the other hand there is a very jolly Trio section that it might have amused Sullivan enough to include in one of his operas. Throughout this major-keyed work, Krommer frequently makes dramatic points by lapsing into the minor. The C minor work probably dates from about twenty years later and is on a grand scale – scoring includes four horns and three trombones. This is firmly 19th-century music and the eager first movement has hints of Weber, or perhaps Weber in a hurry. Yet again the Trio intriguingly foreshadows Sullivan and in the finale the darkness of C minor is alleviated since it is almost entirely in the major; Golding’s description of the main theme as “Rossinian” is very accurate. A full-blooded recording does both works justice and Bamert drives the music forward in an exhilarating manner. These are far from being subtle works but the use of the orchestra is often very colourful.
Carl Stamitz (1745-1801) seems to have caught public attention in recent years (at one time record companies avoided him entirely). In their day the Stamitz family were famous throughout Europe – Carl’s father Johann being Kapellmeister when the famous orchestra at Mannheim was at its greatest and Carl himself won renown moving from Mannheim to Paris, and from The Hague and Berlin. It is interesting that Leopold Mozart should have been so set against the family and after asking his son if he had taken the opportunity to meet Carl and his brother Anton, Wolfgang Amadeus wrote back to his father telling him that he had not done so saying: “They are indeed two wretched scribblers, gamblers, swillers and adulterers – not the kind of people for me”. Such rumours never seemed to have been circulated by others so this may merely have been Mozart choosing diplomatically to agree with his father.
Melodically Stamitz seems superior in invention to Krommer. The F major work is very lyrical with a jolly finale worthy of Haydn. The C major is less impressive however because of the lack of colour, with just two horns in the low octave and two oboes to provide wind support Stamitz merely provides comfortable melodies but with a minimum of contrast. The swift theme in the first movement is so alarmingly naϊve that no clever orchestration could rescue it, yet the subsequent Andante grazioso is rather touching and the darkly-scored finale has comforting melodies. Surprisingly, Golding makes a comment on the performance by pointing out that only the first repeat is made in the finale; however, even more surprisingly, Bamert does repeat the second section. Was this performance re-edited for reissue after the notes had been written? The G major Symphony is more cheerful: it opens in a dance-like manner and includes the Stamitz trademark of a dramatic crescendo when moving from one theme to another. The slow movement has all the elegance of J. C. Bach at his most charming and the finale finds the winds used in a far more interesting way than was the case in the companion Opus 13 work. The gem of this selection is the D major symphony entitled ‘La Chasse’. It commences with a serious and dramatic introduction but then the hunt begins with fanfaring horns accompanying equestrian-sounding rhythms. After a thoughtful Andante the finale sets everything into full cry and employs authentic hunting horn-calls. It is entirely suitable that the trumpets, which Stamitz uses sparingly, are not allowed to obtrude while the horns are given their head – they play superbly and very excitingly.
In other Chandos recordings in this series I have sometimes queried the timpani sound – in the Krommer, and for that matter, most of the other discs here, their quality is natural and the balance excellent. With the Stamitz disc the focus on these instruments is not so precise – they are given less presence. With the same venue and recording team in both recordings I can only assume that this is a production decision on the day – maybe percussive instruments were thought to have less of a place in the hunt (they might frighten the horses!).
Although Ignace Joseph Pleyel (1757-1831) was a generation younger than his tutor Haydn, the influence is still quite clear. Virtually Mozart’s exact contemporary, Pleyel wrote the same amount of numbered symphonies (there is something about the number 41 – Mozart, Brunetti, Pleyel – and Michael Haydn is not far off that number either). I have reservations about Pleyel concerning a certain lack of inspiration in thematic material, notably in slow movements. Of other 18th-century composers whose music strikes me in this way is the admirable but not always inspired Vanhal; and, reputedly, Pleyel studied with Vanhal. The slow introduction to Pleyel’s C major Symphony is very grand – this work comes from the same year as Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ although it was only published as Opus 66 a quarter of a century later. The scoring and indeed the overall sound are similar to that of Beethoven at this period and the Haydn influence is also discernible since clarinets are not used. The Pleyel C major has a weak idea at the start of the first movement’s Allegro and the slow movement is conventional, there is however a fine Minuet including a charming, peasant-like Trio followed by an excitingly rowdy finale. Maybe the earlier (1791) D minor symphony would have introduced the listener to Pleyel more effectively had it been placed first, a worthy work with strong themes it is surprisingly cheerful given its ‘serious’ key-signature and again the introduction is dark, tragic and dramatic. This is an excellent sub-Beethoven symphony and no less developed in style than the ten-year-later C major. Once again we have a plain but pleasant slow movement and there is a sturdy Minuet and Trio followed by a racing Haydn-like rondo-finale. The G major Symphony is the latest of the three although there is nothing its style to indicate this. There are no trumpets, drums or clarinets here – a mid-period Haydn sort of sound. Somehow Pleyel is more convincing when not attempting to explore dramatic depths: this is the only one of the three symphonies without a slow introduction and the melodies of the first movement run happily. The slow movement is a deeply-felt Adagio and the tuneful Minuet is nearer to Haydn than the rest of the music; there is also a charming flute solo in the Trio and the choice of a rondo for the finale seemed inevitable – an unexpectedly playful piece with melodies suitable to grace the lighter moments of an operetta. Bamert is entirely at home with this music, sprightly rhythms throughout; lucid balance and ideal tempos.
Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818) is a far less familiar name. Bohemian by birth he remained in Prague until he was in his 30s before taking up a career in Vienna. Golding informs us that all eleven of his known symphonies are scored identically for two each of oboes, bassoons and horns with strings. Only two of them including the D major example have a slow introduction. Of the three symphonies here this is the most dramatic; several themes are provided for each movement and Kozeluch seems to enjoy swerving in and out of foreign keys. At first the melody of the slow movement recalls Haydn but further notions of similarity are soon dispelled: Haydn would never use horns in that manner in an adagio, he might however have approved of the plaintive oboe in the centre of the movement and would I am sure have enjoyed Kozeluch’s little joke of putting the melody on the ‘wrong’ beat in the Minuet but Haydn would never have composed such a simple finale.
Maybe because the G minor Symphony has no Minuet Kozeluch gives a certain amount of weight to it. It is his only minor-keyed symphony and is as long as the four-movement D major – it makes a strikingly forceful entry. Bamert takes the central Adagio quite swiftly – absolutely appropriate for this movement – before the fierce finale crashes in. This seems to be music of “Sturm und Drang” style famously represented by Haydn and others (Mozart’s Symphony in G minor, K183, is recalled). This work has something special about it and deserves to be played as frequently as Haydn’s middle-period works. The F major Symphony is straightforward and classical with slightly greater use of woodwind – especially at the close of the first movement. On this disc the winds seem a little more set back, but that is no great problem in this particular lucidly scored work nor is there any drawback with there being a touch more resonance since it sounds comfortable and the inner lines are not obscured. The Minuet is marked Allegretto and suitably Bamert does not hurry, leaving pace for the finale where it enhances the agitated nature of the music. These three symphonies are superb examples of late-18th-century composition and they deserve greater attention.
Moravian-born Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808) is often linked with Mozart but more from the circumstances of their lives than the similarity of their music. Wranitzky was born in the same year as Mozart and from the age of 20 he had a successful career mostly in Vienna, he was a close friend of Mozart and the two composers even belonged to the same Masonic lodge. After Mozart’s death, Wranitzky helped his impoverished widow. In his time Wranitzky was at least as famous as his best-known contemporaries. The works chosen here are two symphonies scored for a standard ‘Beethoven’ orchestra and the disc ends with an unusual ‘programme symphony’ which purports to describe musically the history of the French Revolution.
The Symphony in D dates from 1799 – a mere three years before Beethoven’s own Symphony in D (No.2) and it has identical scoring. The similarity stops there, and to the fact that the composers both write in the style of the period, but their approach to melody and dramatic contrast is not at all similar. Wranitzky provides a powerful introduction but the basic theme of the subsequent Allegro is calm in nature and the composer’s method of capturing attention is fully to orchestrate fierce tutti sections. There is a very long exposition of the essential melodies which is not repeated. Golding describes this movement as “pure opera buffa”. A quirky, fully-scored, bouncing Allegretto follows, it has the puzzling title ‘Russe’ and then, instead of a Minuet, Wranitzky provides a rapid Polonaise. More originality is to be found in the finale which commences with a calm Largo for winds alone and after a military fanfare we are led into a jolly rondo full of big contrasts in orchestration.
The C minor work is more conventional in form. It is orchestrated in the same way except that only one flute is used rather than the two required for the D major. A brief dark introduction precedes a fiery Allegro assai where trumpets and drums grab the attention and the calmer melodies echo their rhythm. Many ideas are incorporated in the basic material and this time the exposition is repeated in the conventional way. Nothing remarkable about the pleasing Adagio perhaps and Bamert does keep it moving in an elegant manner but the Minuet is very interesting. It is marked Allegretto but Bamert chooses a faster tempo than that – in fact he adopts the sort of pace that might be used for the lively Minuet of Schubert’s Second Symphony – logical because the opening phrases are amazingly similar to those of that very movement. This is intriguing because Wranitzky’s symphony was published six years before Schubert was born. The Trio is not like Schubert’s peasant-dance at that point; rather it is a quaint horn-led section with almost comical ending phrases. This Minuet is very brief and Bamert – always conscious of form – convincingly chooses to make both Minuet repeats after the Trio as well as before. This is not his usual procedure but it is apposite here. The finale is powerful and very fully orchestrated – melodies which are of Mozart-like grace are presented with enormous force and Wranitzky revels in the power of his orchestra. It is worth mentioning that the important timpani parts are captured effectively.
The ‘Grand Characteristic’ Symphony for strings is divided into four sections but each subsidiary dramatic episode is given a separate track – ten in all. I find it difficult to relate the dramatic titles to the music – even the opening, entitled ‘Revolution’, is simply a well-constructed cheerful divertimento piece. The following ‘English March’ is very quiet and drifts off into unexplained drama – the Austrian and Prussian marches are slightly more military and the second ‘English March’ is quite grand – rather like the introduction to a Mozart divertimento. Then there is a ‘March of the Allies’ – mind you I am not sure which side Wranitzky favoured so I can’t be sure who the allies are. Then we have ‘Tumult of Battle’; this is charming, rapid music with only the occasional venture into the minor key. It sounds like a pleasant day out on the battlefield – certainly no-one seems to get killed or wounded. The work draws to a close with ‘Prospects of Peace’ followed by a final ‘Rejoicing’ which sounds like a finale from one of Mozart’s three string divertimentos (K136-138). There don’t seem to be any movements depicting the huge numbers of murders that followed the revolution. In other words, forget about the titles – this is just an extended multi-movement divertimento. If Wranitzky were to be represented by a programmatic work, I feel that his exciting three-movement symphony entitled ‘La Tempesta’ would have been far more interesting. In it the ten-minute-long finale adds bass drum to the orchestra and gives as vivid a musical account of a storm as I have heard – maybe Mathias Bamert will consider this work in a future recording.
Indeed I should be interested in anything he chooses to record; it is refreshing to find a musician with a deep interest in the 18th-century having no fear of exploring the unusual and the little-known. Long may this series continue and this boxed-set would be an ideal introduction for those who have not yet explored this adventurous cycle. The London Mozart Players is on top form, Matthias Bamert is immaculately stylish in music of this period and, with only some small reservations, and the recording presents it all in attractive clear-cut sound. The resonant acoustic, especially in the Tooting-based recordings, is very appealing.