Sinfonia in A [Brown A4]
Sinfonia in G minor [Brown Gm7]
Sinfonia in C [Brown C2]
Sinfonia in B minor [Brown Bm1]
Sinfonia in G minor [Brown Gm8]
Recorded between 9-11 January 2004 in Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: January 2006
CD No: NAXOS 8.557482
Duration: 62 minutes
I have always regretted not being able to find more about the Vienna-born Karl von Ordonez (1734-1786). The name first caught my attention when H. C. Robbins Landon mentioned him appreciatively in his musicological study “Symphonies of Joseph Haydn”, a hugely influential book, full of exciting musical discoveries. I well remember Landon’s intriguing phrase: “the shadowy Ordonez”. In a later book, Landon considered the use of minuets in symphonies – a feature for which Haydn is notable – and in this connection Landon observes that: “The inclusion of both a slow movement and a minuet (rather than the often prolix ‘tempo di menuetto’) provides a broader canvas on which to work – a liberating development which is also found in the symphonies of Ordoñez and Hofmann”. (The ‘ñ’ suggests Ordonez’s Spanish background, and he is sometimes referred to as Carlo(s) d’Ordonez, with or without the ‘ñ’.) Landon goes on to add that of Haydn’s contemporaries, these two composers were also notable for sometimes placing a slow movement first. These theories seem well-reasoned; therefore I am a little surprised that in the new Naxos release, the repertoire should have been limited to the simple fast-slow-fast symphonic pattern so familiar before this era (remember, Ordonez was almost an exact contemporary of Haydn). The precise dates of these works are not known but the booklet note suggests that they were all composed prior to 1775 (this equates to mid-period Haydn). On glancing at the back cover of the CD I note that the C major symphony has its first movement labelled Adagio, but this refers only to the introduction, the greater part of the movement is actually a lively Allegro.
The only other recorded performance of an Ordonez composition that I have to hand is Christopher Hogwood’s version of a dramatic, four-movement C minor Symphony. This is a fully-scored work that includes trumpets and drums. I should have preferred the Naxos recording to include something similar: all five symphonies here are lightly scored and more variation of the conventional 18th-century oboes, horns and strings combination would have been welcome. True, Ordonez uses winds in slow movements whereas his contemporaries by no means always did so, but there is an element of sameness of texture throughout.
This suggests that these performances would have sounded more in-period had the conductor elected to use continuo instruments. Such a group in those days would often consist of bassoon and harpsichord. In those slow movements where Ordonez uses only strings, the texture is rather plain and I kept hearing phrases where the in-filling of harmonies by a harpsichord would have lifted the sound. A case in point is the Andante of the A major symphony – I want to forgive its sameness of texture though, because it is a delightful J. C. Bach-like piece. The strings-only Larghetto of the C major symphony has the added interest of an elegant violin solo.
In terms of tempo, Kevin Mallon is very convincing in the fast outer movements; he tends towards stateliness in the slow ones however. The above-mentioned Larghetto moves very gently although this gives suitable space for the soloist to phrase beautifully. Throughout, the playing is excellent. The high horns in the A major work are both exciting and accurate.
Naxos has an admirable reputation for providing intriguing music by lesser-known 18th-century composers: long may it continue.