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James McCarthy
Limelight, July 2009

During the early music revival of the 1960s, many of us reached a point where if we heard another piece of 18th century musical wallpaper we would be tempted to hurl the radio across the room. However, it was very popular and this led to the record industry trawling the dusty libraries of Europe in search of more forgotten scores, occasionally finding a gem or two. Mozart’s father, Leopold, was a competent composer of the type of music that was rescued. Most of the music on this CD is better than music written by many other minor composers in this genre. It is gracious and charming with just enough musical invention to keep it all running smoothly. There is still argument about the creator of this Toy Symphony. The ball seems to be in the Leopold court at the moment. Frankly, it would do his reputation no harm at all if some other musical journeyman were eventually found to have penned it. It is trite beyond belief and the toys are simply irritating. On this disc it is immediately followed by the infinitely better Sinfonia in D major. The contrast is remarkable, so superior is the latter piece. However, there will always be those to whom musical associations are more important that the music itself. So toy symphonies (such as the equally superficial Toy Symphony by Michael Haydn, and noisily empty works such as Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory) will have their place. This music is well played by the Canadians and nicely recorded.

Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, May 2009

Respectable symphonies from music’s most famous father

Works like the Musical Sleighride, the Peasant Wedding and the Toy Symphony have given Mozart père something of a reputation for musical frivolity, in sharp contrast to the stem, judgemental figure that emerges from his letters to his son. But he turned out a series of perfectly respectable symphonies that speak the Italianate lingua franca of the mid-18th century with fluency and skill, if no real individuality.

Cliff Eisen, who is editing Leopold’s symphonies for publication and writes the scholarly notes for both these discs, makes a strong case for the so-called New Lambach, long misattributed to Wolfgang. It’s certainly the most substantial and “up-to-date” work on offer here, with lively, well developed outer movements and a pleasantly melodious Andante. The other symphonies on the Naxos disc are much slighter. Slow movements have a certains sober charm, though Allegros tend to bustle and quiver to no great purpose, with a constricted harmonic range, minimal melodic interest and predictable repetition of phrases. The same strictures apply to the selection on the Chandos disc, though two of the C major symphonies here (C1 and D1) are enlivened by flamboyant horn parts. The other C major Symphony, C4, with its drone effects and “primitive” dialogues between violins and double basses, has a mildly rustic flavor…If Mallon and his Toronto band, caught in clearer sound, sometimes sound a tad decorous, rhythms and phrasing are always alert, while ratchet, snare drum, bird whistle and other assorted interlopers patently enjoy themselves in the Toy Symphony.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, April 2009

The rehabilitation of Mozart père, as man, has been going on for some time. His presentation in many popular accounts of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus, as callously exploitative and autocratic, as embittered by jealousy of his son’s genius, has been at the very least tempered, if not entirely refuted, by modern scholarship. We are in a better position, now, to recognise why, at the time of his death, his friend Dominicus Hagenauer, Abbot of St Peter’s in Salzburg, should have written in his diary that “Leopold Mozart, who died today, was a man of much wit and wisdom, and would have been capable of good services to the state beyond those of music…He was born in Augsburg, spent most of his days in court service here, and yet had the misfortune always to be persecuted and was far less beloved here than in other great places of Europe”.

Leopold’s music awaits a full revaluation. Such as I have heard suggests a high level of competence—which need be no surprise at all—a responsiveness to the work of composers younger than himself, and an occasional capacity to rise to greater heights than the ‘merely’ competent…Here we have a sampling of his symphonic writing in crisp and idiomatic performances by the Naxos regular Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra. The CD is enhanced by the notes of Cliff Eisen, a leading authority on Leopold and editor of his work, who tells us that the symphonies belong to the years between the early 1740s and the early 1760s, though a few may date from the late 1760s or even the early 1770s.

The early Sinfonia in A major (Eisen A1) is scored for strings alone; its three movements are elegant and assured, structurally neat, though without any very great individuality. The Sinfonia in D major (Eisen D15), another work in three movements, adds two horns to the strings and the writing displays a more attentive ear to textural effect, with some unexpected touches and some attractive melodic invention. With the Sinfonia in G major (Eisen G8) we hear a work in four movements (allegro-andante-menuetto-allegro) which has often been wrongly attributed to Wolfgang. Eisen is surely right to suggest that this is one of Leopold’s later compositions, it being a sophisticated piece of work, interesting in terms both of structure and detail. The lengthiest work here, the Sinfonia in G major, was also attributed to Wolfgang for some years. All the documentary evidence argues for Mozart senior being the symphony’s composer, but it is easy to see how the error (perhaps a piece of “biographical-wishful-thinking” as Eisen puts it) was made, such is the quality of the work and its decidedly ‘modern’ manner. It’s a fine piece, notably in the lengthy andante with its attractive melodies and the stirring music of the closing allegro. A work such as this makes it clear why Leopold Mozart deserves to be taken seriously and why it is a cause for regret that we seem to have lost many of his compositions.

The ‘hook’ for the CD is the well known ‘Toy Symphony’ (so-called). There is no very convincing reason for thinking this to be, with any certainty, Leopold’s work. A number of manuscripts survive, with many variants (including the number of movements) and with attributions to several different composers. It isn’t, of course, in any sense a symphony—as Eisen suggests, it belongs rather to the genre of the Cassation. It is good fun and it gets a lively enough performance, but it isn’t the best reason for getting hold of this CD; a better reason is offered by the other symphonies which make up the bulk of the disc, which should be of interest to anyone with a taste for the eighteenth-century symphony and, of course, to any Mozartean not still in the grip of anti-Leopold sentiments.

Michael Ullman
Fanfare, March 2009

…these are certainly pleasing works, a little formal, but well played by Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra. © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, November 2008

What could have been a fun record turns out to be a disappointment. The topnotch ensemble and director who have given us some of the best Handel (and other musicks) on record have in this instance slacked off. Little Wolfgang was writing better symphonies before he was ten. In other words, this is not very good music. All the more reason then to make the best of it, and put some fire under this weak brew. But Maestro Mallon’s approach to these works is uncharacteristically timid, and his musicians respond with a marked lack of enthusiasm. The only decent reading is in the second G Major work, the “Neue Lambacher Sinfonie”.

James Manheim, November 2008

This Naxos release is one of the few exclusively devoted to Leopold’s music. As such, it’s something of a revelation…An indicator of its high quality is that several of them have in the past been attributed to the younger Mozart. Given that Wolfgang was indeed alive and working when these works were composed…this disc is worth hearing again…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2008

To further the career of his young son and daughter, Leopold Mozart largely sacrificed his own life as a composer. Today he is largely remembered by his Toy Symphony, those ‘toy’ instruments in concert invariably played by celebrities who are having fun. In fact, it may not actually have been his work, and if so would unquestionably be one of his weakest scores. That is highlighted here by its inclusion in a disc of his estimable Symphonies—or Sinfonias as they were described at the time. They number around sixty though he may well have composed many more that were lost. Composed between 1740 and 1760—before his two famous children came on the scene—they were written at a time when he was an orchestral violinist and teacher. He used both the three and four movement format, and was obviously never short of attractive melodic invention. I would urge you to hear the D major Sinfonia, scored for strings with a pair of horns, and ask yourself how many of Haydn’s early symphonies would stand comparison to the fresh and lively invention, the Minuet finale as charming as anything written at that time. That he continued composing after he had launched Wolfgang onto the world stage, is evidenced by the G major Sinfonia, known as the ‘Lambacher Sinfonie’, the Lambach Abbey being the recipient of the original manuscript in 1769. That he was aware of the music of the time comes in a score harmonically very advanced. It is performed by the Toronto Chamber Orchestra with their Principal Conductor, Kevin Mallon, a modern instrument ensemble who seem to be greatly enjoying the music and anxious to communicate it to us. The recording is crystal clear, but there is some background noise drawn to your attention when it stops between movements.

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