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Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, September 2008

Each of the symphonies presented here is slender, stylish and deftly constructed. Vaňhal was almost an exact contemporary of Joseph Haydn, and the polish and élan of his music illustrates why he was also one of the most successful Viennese composers of his day.

There is a whiff of Sturm und Drang in the pulsing first movement of the early E minor symphony, and the minor mode spices the third movement Menuetto and Trio and the helter-skelter of the final Contratanz. The smiling Andante, placed second, provides contrast, as does the bright but slight second subject of the final movement.

As Paul Bryan points out in his erudite booklet notes, the C major symphony Bryan C1 was one of Vaňhal’s most popular and well known compositions, published as far afield as London and Paris and surviving to the present day in as many as 18 manuscript copies. This cheery symphony is also cleverly constructed, with a first movement that is built from a brief motif, a canonic andante and a skipping finale, which ideally would pack a weightier punch than it does in this otherwise stylish performance.

The C major symphony Bryan C17 is a late work and, according to the liner notes, was performed by Haydn from the manuscript copies in the collection of Prince Esterházy. The second movement is notable for its prominent use of winds and Vaňhal’s interesting orchestral textures generally. The finale references the first and second movements to give the work a cyclical unity.

The E-flat major symphony that closes the disc has a sobriquet: La Tempesta. While it is no Pastoral Symphony, it is illustrative of a storm, with Vaňhal deploying a rising semiquaver “storm” figure that features prominently in the finale and appears in each of the preceding movements to give the whole piece a cyclical feel.

The Toronto Chamber Orchestra—which also appeared on volume 3 in this series [Naxos 8.557483]—play modern instruments in the period style, eschewing vibrato and generally painting in clear clean lines. The mushy boom of the timpani—particularly in the first and third movements of the C major symphony Bryan C1 and the first movement of the C major symphony Bryan C17—is a bit distracting, but otherwise there is little to complain about on this album and much to enjoy.

American Record Guide, August 2008

This is listed as Volume 4 of Vanhal’s (1739–1813) symphonies. I’m not certain exactly how many of them I have. but it surely exceeds two dozen. That is a tribute to Vanhal’s fecundity as well as his talent—until now much under­rated. He was roughly a contemporary of Haydn, and Haydn admired a number of his works, which are lyrical, powerful, and imaginative.

The earlier Vanhal symphonies are equal in quality to Haydn’s early works. The Symphony in E minor dates from 1760–2 and is quite turbulent in nature owing to its minor key structure. The work ends with a contradance type of movement that ends quietly to good effect.

The Symphony in C was written from 1763 to 1765. It makes good use of the wind choir independently of the strings and is bright in its overall colors with good rhythmic character.

The other Symphony in C (there are two here) comes from 1775–8. This one exists in several copies, including one at Esterhazy, which means that Haydn probably conducted it. This work is brilliantly scored and especially fine.

The Symphony in E-flat has no listed date of composition. The finale is marked La Tempesta on the first page. It certainly seems to portray a storm. The whole work is strikingly original and rather different from his other works.

The Toronto Chamber Orchestra plays modern instruments, though the members adopt classical playing styles. Kevin Mallon gives a great deal of polish to his leadership. Recording and notes are first class.

Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, July 2008

This is a modern instruments ensemble, but the performances per se are stylistically appropriate, free of exaggeration—fairly middle-of-the-road, in fact—but definitely not lacking interest. They should satisfy most people. The engineering is similarly pleasing.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2008

Beloved Papa Haydn (though he never married) has worn the “Father of the Symphony” hat long enough! I submit that if not passed on to, it should at least be shared by Vanhal, the Benda crowd, and other Bohemian and central European symphonists too numerous to mention. Not to diminish Haydn, yet one must admit that many of his early symphonies are little more than enhanced, sometimes bland string quartets. On the strength of what Mallon and his excellent players are demonstrating in this series, Vanhal and others of his contemporaries produced spicier, more daringly adventurous orchestral music. I look forward to more in this vein!

Julian Haylock
Classic FM, May 2008

Vaňhal’s emotionally charged symphonies provide a fascinating missing link between Haydn’s brusque Classicism and Schubert’s Romantic tendencies.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2008

Johann Baptiste Vanhal’s output exceeding seventy Symphonies, so Naxos have a long way still to go, though we must be exceedingly grateful for all they have given us thus far. Born to a Czech peasant family in 1739, he was entrusted to a local musician for his early training, good fortune coming his way when a wealthy patron realised his talents and arranged for composition lessons with the great Dittersdorf in Vienna. His financial support was rewarded by the genius he had released, further patronage enabling the young man to travel and move in exalted musical circles. Such were his gifts and prodigious output that he was to be the first musician to earn a living entirely from composing. Maybe in hindsight his greatness was overstated when compared with the young Haydn or Mozart, but he was a consummate craftsman who produced the most elegantly shaped scores. The disc covers much of his career, one of his earliest Sinfonias—which Naxos persist in describing as Symphonies—being the E minor which opens the disc. Amiable but never a major work, it shows the progress made when three years later, in 1765, he produced the dramatic C major, a score that from contemporary catalogues seems to have been amongst his most popular Sinfonias, the finale scampering to an exciting conclusion. Thirteen years later a further C major work obviously gained much acclaim, manuscript copies found in the archives of Prince Esterhazy’s estate pointing to the proposition that it was performed for him by Haydn. The final work on the disc is unusual among Vanhal’s Sinfonias in having a descriptive finale marked ‘La Tempesta’, the reason for its inclusion unknown. Kevin Mallon and his Toronto Chamber Orchestra give neat, crisp and perceptive performances, the timpani much overstated and aided by a recording that is otherwise well balanced.

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