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Bertil van Boer
Fanfare, May 2010

…the players are in tune and her tempos, not absurdly fast in the flanking movements and nicely moderate in the slow ones, fit Gassmann’s ambience perfectly…

…I recommend you buy it, put it on, and enjoy the party.

Uncle Dave Lewis, January 2010

…Naxos’ Florian Leopold Gassmann: Opera Overtures does serve to lift the veil on this neglected figure of the eighteenth century and the disc has more than its share of attractive and entertaining music.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, December 2009

Born in Brux, now known as Most, in Bohemia, Gassmann had to leave home—partly because his goldsmith father did not approve of his choice of career—in order to study music. Making his way to Italy he may have studied with Padre Martini and certainly worked and learned much in Venice. By 1757 he was sufficiently well established to have his opera Merope produced at the Teatro San Moise during the Venetian Carnival. His success in Italy—five more operas followed—and the Viennese production of his opera Catone in Utica in the 1761-2 season) that led to his being invited to take up an appointment in Vienna in 1763. Succeeding Gluck there, he became a figure of considerable importance in the musical life in the city; so much so that Empress Maria Theresa acted as godmother to one of his children. On a trip to Venice in 1765–6 he met Salieri, then in his mid teens, and brought him back to Vienna as a pupil.

As a composer, Gassmann wrote church music and quartets of some distinction, but it is his operas that have been responsible for such relatively little attention as he has attracted in modern times. A 2003 production of his L’Opera seria of 1769 (with a libretto by Ranieri de Calzabigi) at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, directed by Jean-Louis Martinoty and conducted by René Jacobs, was well reviewed and generally admired.

This new CD from Naxos offers lively performances of ten of Gassmann’s operatic overtures—some of which had an independent life as symphonies—played with attractive vivacity by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Sylvia Alimena. It was formed in 1992 by members of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C.

The overtures show Gassmann to be a thorough professional of high competence but not, on the evidence of these works, a composer of great individuality or originality. The music has considerable charm; only in one or two of the slow movements (try that of Gli uccellatori) in these three part overtures does one encounter music that digs a little deeper, emotionally speaking. At its best this is the music of sensibility, rather than of passion or profundity.

Without knowing whether or not these overtures incorporate themes from the operas they introduce—I suspect that they don’t—there is relatively little to distinguish them one from another. They might very well be used interchangeably. One partial exception comes in La Casa de campagna, which is more distinctive in mood and imagery, pastoral in flavour and spiced with hunting horns, closing with an imaginative contradance. One notes that La Casa de campagna belongs to 1773, only a year before Gassmann’s death in a fall from a carriage. It is tempting to think that Gassmann’s early death cut off a significant development in his career as a composer.

This is not, perhaps, a CD best listened to right through. But there are plenty of individual movements to which one is likely to feel the urge to return to now and then—such as the opening allegro of Il viaggiatore ridiculo, which has some effective manipulations of tempo and dynamics and a fair sense of the dramatic—though we are a long way from Mozart.

This music’s rococo elegance offers real enough pleasures, but is essentially minor in nature and scope. A full recording of one of these operas might perhaps make one think differently?

Margarida Mota-Bull
MusicWeb International, November 2009

The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, led by its music director, Sylvia Alimena, applies brightness and joy, demonstrating very effectively the composer’s ability to write well-crafted, rather pretty music in a style that was attractive in his lifetime. Alimena who together with another twenty-two of her colleagues at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington formed the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, has had a distinguished career both as a conductor and as a French horn player. Her interpretation of these overtures does full justice to the composer, expressively extracting the typical cheerfulness of this music in charming, attractive and extremely pleasant performances.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gassmann’s music of which I knew little and the interpretation of Alimena with the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. All overtures are delivered with meticulous care, clear sound and harmony, particularly La notte critica where the enjoyment of the musicians is obvious and rather contagious when one listens to it; La casa di campagna, Gassmann’s last opera, a beautiful, picturesque piece where especially its third movement, with its well depicted rhythm, will make you tap your feet and La contessina that is both charming and completely delightful.  

As always, Naxos continues to record works of quality by neglected composers or to bring us forgotten compositions by better known composers at affordable prices and with very good sound quality., October 2009

10 overtures by Florian Leopold Gassmann (1729–1774), played with tremendous style and élan by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra under Sylvia Alimena. This is a small orchestra whose members are drawn from the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, D.C.), and the group plays as if everyone is a virtuoso and everyone is having tremendous fun. The ensemble work is so good that the works here have the give-and-take of fine chamber music, as if a quartet has outgrown the confines of its size and emerged larger but equally well integrated…Each of these 10 overtures is in the same old-fashioned fast-slow-fast form. All feature bright and lively outer sections sandwiching some lovely lyricism in the middle…Alimena and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra are to be commended for going beyond the standard 18th-century repertoire to dig up some worthy music by a composer who is now little known.

David Hurwitz, September 2009

Florian Leopold Gassmann (1729–74) was a noted composer of Italian opera (principally) in Vienna, who enjoyed strong connections to the Royal court. He also was something of a schemer, as Dittersdorf relates in his autobiography, jealously guarding his position in the Austrian capital and using his control of the Royal theater to his best advantage. His music is about what you might expect from a Rococo composer: fluent, cheerful, and warmly melodic. All of these overtures contain three movements, fast-slow-fast, lasting no longer than eight minutes. They are thus miniature symphonies, and while the titles of the operas sound intriguing (The Critical Night; The Ridiculous Traveler; One Madman Makes Many; Love in the Workplace, etc), they are all cut from the same cloth and give little clue as to the contents of the drama to come.

This doesn’t make them any less pleasant, and some of these pieces enjoyed considerable popularity in their day. Indeed, Love in the Workplace was produced by Haydn at Eszterháza. The performances, by members of the National Symphony (Washington, DC), are highly accomplished, full of charm, and rhythmically perky. The conductor, Sylvia Alimena, plays second horn with the orchestra, and ensures that the wind parts don’t get buried by the strings…this disc constitutes an appealing program and a real slice of Viennese musical history that will be unfamiliar to most listeners. I recommend it accordingly.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

Of Bohemian origin, Florian Leopold Gassmann, made his career in Vienna, becoming known as the composer of a series of successful operas before his untimely death in 1774 at the age of forty-five. The present release offers ten opera overtures which, in the 18th century, were in the shape of short three-movement sinfonias. He was to contribute much to opera in Venice, usually for the carnival season, the result being music for a lighthearted comedy. Each work is predictable in its shape, a slow central Andante surrounded by fast outer movements, and  it is the respective lengths of these movements that largely dictates the mood of the opera that would follow, and though I would not describe them as major scores, they are throughout the work of a master craftsman with a ready melodic inventiveness. When in his most inspired mood, as in the opening Allegro to La casa di campagna, he can be a highly amusing, and two of the included works—the overture to Il filosofo innamorato and La notte critica enjoyed a life as concert symphonies. My favourite comes in La contessa—his most popular opera at that time—which is delightful in content.It is all immaculately played by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble formed in 1992 by twenty-two members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. It has become known for its performances of contemporary music, but under its Music Director, Sylvia Alimena, it offers a sense of period style, crisp string articulation and immaculate intonation. Very realistic sound quality.

John W Barker
American Record Guide, March 2009

Marginal Handel and great Handel.

With Semele, of course, we are dealing with one of Handel’s most original and beautiful dramatic works, one of his true English operas…This [recording] has some claims to attention. It is both with period instruments and is ultra-complete. It not only contains every number given by the previous officially “complete” recordings but includes the rarely given air for Cupid that opens Act II, Scene 2, whose right to belong there is, to be sure, disputed…it is an honest performance reflecting earnest dedication to Handel…The seven singers are good vocalists, with varying virtues in their roles. For vocal strength, as well as clear English diction, tenor Schoch and the familiar bass Mertens are excellent.

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