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Michael Carter
Fanfare, July 2007

This is enjoyable music that is well served by these interpretations that wear the mantle of the era quite well. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Kenneth Page
Limelight, May 2007

Here are four symphonies, representing the muses of epic poetry, tragedy and history, and the goddess of hunting composed by Pichl when he was in his late 20s. The briefly thunderous opening to Calliope sets the mood straight away. So much energy is bound up in this music! Bubbling strings and enthusiastic winds bottled up for two and a half centuries, suddenly released like some ancient genie. All these works are in major keys, so the overall feel is one of celebration. We’re hearing Pichl the positive thinker, not the woeful despondent. Despite the symphonies’ names, however, these are not pictorial works. Diana summons up no fanciful images of goddesses swanning around loosing arrows at woodland fawns. Whether you could successfully place each symphony with its nominal inspiration, without knowing which was which, is rather unlikely, but from beginning to end, it’s full of exuberant originality. Listening to it, you can only wonder at the vagaries of fame and fortune which blessed him during his own life but have, over the years, rendered him something of a neglected figure. By any standards it matches the very best work of his contemporaries, such as the better-known Vanhal, and personal friend, Dittersdorf. Mallon conducts what used to be known as Toronto Camerata, and they surpass themselves here. Their rendition is solidly mature, confident, balanced and fiery, just the thing to get the best out of this type of music.

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, April 2007

Wenzel Pichl is hardly a household name, but in his day he was as big a figure as any in the Mannheim set. He was a close friend of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, and no less a musician than Haydn performed his music at Eszterháza. It is easy to see why. Pichl's music is stylish, skilfully composed and unfailingly delightful.

The four symphonies collected here are compact, polished creations that introduce and develop their material with great facility and never outstay their welcome. Outer movements are brisk, tuneful and jolly; andantes and minuets are charming. Like Dittersdorf, Pichl was interested in classical mythology and gave his symphonies names from antiquity. I cannot say that I was readily able to identify the muses painted by the first three, or the goddess painted by the fourth, from the music itself. However, I suspect that this has more to do with Pichl's subtlety than any arbitrariness on his part. For example, the third symphony on this disc, dedicated to Clio, the muse of history, features an andante full of archaic counterpoint. The first movement of the symphony named for Diana features a two note motif that could be suggestive of the hunt, though he does not resort to horn calls that would have been a more obvious clue. In any case, whether or not you can tie these symphonies to their immortal namesakes, you will almost certainly enjoy them.

Kevin Mallon and his Toronto band play Pichl's symphonies with style and enthusiasm. Their committed advocacy of rarely heard music is one of the major selling points of a growing number of Naxos discs, and this one is no exception. For the record, their instruments are modern, but their performance style is period-sensitive, with minimal vibrato from the strings and hard sticks for the timpani. There is no harpsichord continuo; none is necessary.

The recorded sound is excellent and Allan Badley's liner notes provide helpful biographical information, though a little more detail on the music itself would have been welcome.

This well filled and attractively priced disc can be warmly recommended to anyone looking to explore the Classical era beyond Haydn and Mozart.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, March 2007

Pichl seems hitherto to have made only the most passing appearances on the pages of MusicWeb International, so some biographical information would appear to be in order.

Czech by origin – originally known as Vaclav Pichl – the composer was born in Bechyně in Bohemia. He received his early musical education there, then studied at the Jesuit College at Březnice where he served as a singer; he was then able to attend university in Prague, where he studied theology, law and philosophy, as well as developing his musical knowledge and ability. It was in the musical world that Pichl set about earning his living; our first certain knowledge of him as a professional musician belongs to 1760 when his he was listed as a member of the chorus at the Burgtheater in Vienna. In 1762 he was appointed first violinist of the orchestra in the Church of Our Lady in front of Týn, in the Old Town of Prague (where Tycho Brahe is buried). In 1765, he was engaged by Carl Ditters (i.e. Ditters von Dittersdorf) as assistant director (and violinist) of the private orchestra which served Bishop Adam Patachich at Grosswardein (now Oradea, in modern Romania). Pichl and Ditters became good friends and seem to have exerted a mutual influence on one another. When the Bishop’s orchestra was dissolved at the end of the 1760s, Pichl found work back in Prague and then at the Kärntnerthortheater in Vienna. His work gained him influential admirers, including the Empress Maria Theresa herself, and he was appointed music director to Archduke Ferdinando d’Este, the Austrian governor of Lombardy. From 1777 until 1796 Pichl worked in Italy and established many significant musical contacts there, his own work being much admired. Returning to Vienna – after the French invasion of Lombardy –  he remained musically active until the time of his death – indeed he died when he suffered a seizure whilst performing as a soloist in the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna.

Pichl (like his friend von Dittersdorf) was a well-educated man with pronounced interests in the traditions of classical learning. He wrote Latin texts, some of which he set himself, some of which were set by von Dittersdorf. Rather as von Dittersdorf famously composed a series of sinfonias on stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so Pichl composed a series of sinfonias which take their names from the Nine Muses. There is, though – a striking difference; Dittersdorf’s sinfonias have more or less evident programmes, their connections with their mythological titles are not hard to spot; Pichl’s ‘Muse’ sinfonias, on the other hand, have far less obvious connections with their purported subjects/dedicatees; only with some hesitancy and some guesswork can one suggest why a particular sinfonia is associated with a particular muse. But the music itself is generally impressive and interesting and doesn’t depend upon such extra-musical associations, real or invented.

Of his ‘Muse’ symphonies, seven survive – those dedicated to Euterpe, Urania, Clio, Melpomene, Calliope and Thalia. Those dedicated to Terpsichore and Erato seem now to be lost. Three are recorded on the present CD, along with a sinfonia in honour of Diana, Virgin-huntress and goddess of chastity.

As implied above, these compositions are not heavily characterised or lavishly pictorial in relation to their ostensible subjects. It is presumably not an accident that Calliope, Muse of Epic, is ‘represented’ in the most heavily orchestrated of these sinfonia, with a certain musical grandeur befitting her status (she was, after all, the mother of Orpheus). But beyond this – unless there are some very deeply coded signals going undetected – the compositions would seem largely interchangeable. It is not, then, for what they say about their titular figures that these pieces are likely to be valued, but for the subtle way, for example, in which the counterpoint of the andante in ‘Clio’ is worked out or the lively quasi-dramatic quality of the allegro (very definitely ‘con brio’) which opens ‘Melpomene’ or, indeed, for the melting andante arioso of the ‘Diana’ sinfonia.

In a number of other recordings for Naxos, Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra have already demonstrated just how secure both their technical control and their stylistic understanding are in the music of this classical period. They will only enhance their reputation still further with this fine recording.

Allan Badley’s well-informed booklet notes (from which I have learned a good deal) tell us that when Pichl produced a list of his compositions for a reference book (Jan Bohumír Dlaba?’s Lexicon of Bohemian Artists) in 1802, it contained some 900 works and observes that “the majority … are still extant but largely unexplored”. I sincerely hope that that exploration will be undertaken and that at least some of the results will be recorded, in performances as good as these.

A familiarity with Pichl’s music is not likely to compel any drastic redrawings of the historical maps of the music of the Eighteenth Century – though a few significant details will certainly become clearer. The Haydns certainly knew some of Pichl’s music and so, one suspects, did Mozart. But leaving aside historical questions this is, quite simply, delightful, intelligent, well-made music which will surely give much pleasure to anyone with a taste for the classical symphony.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

That influential patron of the arts, Empress Maria Theresia, is said to have preferred the music of Vaclav Pichl to that of Mozart, which may be stretching a point in Pichl's favour. But she would surely have enjoyed his Sinfonias in preference to Haydn if she had heard these Toronto performances. An exaggerated claim? Well just try the opening track and you will see what I mean - maybe not late Haydn but every bit as good as his middle period symphonies. Pichl's life began in 1741, and having been employed as an orchestral violinist, he moved from his Czech homeland in 1777 to take up a similar post in Italy, where most of his twenty Sinfonias were composed. He was to return to Vienna for the last nine years, dying in 1805 with a life span running as a direct contemporary to Haydn. He was later to use the christen name of Wenzel, probably to give himself more marketability at a time when Austrian and German composers were enjoying so much success, though from his writings it is obvious that he was a well-travelled and highly educated person. That degree of sophistication comes through in his music, and though at time quite pungent, there is a high degree of elegance in his music. I must here heap praise on the Toronto period instrument players who are so secure in every aspect, the high horns rock steady. Kevin Mallon's tempos keep the fast moments moving with urgency, yet so full of charm in Minuets that really do dance. Excellent sound engineering and anyone even remotely interested in this era must have this.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, January 2007

Kudos to Naxos for unearthing this lovely music by a virtually unknown but worthy composer, and giving it such an excellent performance by Mallon and his Torontonians. In the mid-18th century Pichl was highly esteemed. An educated, urbane man, his music reflects his erudition and rates well alongside his contemporaries, like J.C.Bach, Haydn and even Mozart.

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