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Stephen Francis Vasta
MusicWeb International, February 2011

Besides presenting a well-played selection of pleasing, unfamiliar music, this program offers an overview of the symphony in transition. Karsten Erik Ose’s booklet note, as translated by Uwe Lukas Jäger, refers to these four composers as “Mozart’s most famous coevals,” but their diverse, more conservative styles exemplify various points in the form’s gradual metamorphosis from the single contained instrumental movement of the Baroque to the multi-movement structure perfected by Mozart and Haydn.

Antoine Mahaut’s C minor symphony for strings doesn’t really escape the Baroque at all, adhering to the fast-slow-fast form of the sonata da chiesa. Fugal writing dominates both the outer movements, while the central Adagio, sturdy and tonally weighted as it is, is recognizable as a sort of siciliana—though I’d hardly describe it as “wallowing,” as the annotators do!

François-Joseph Gossec’s B flat symphony, also for string orchestra, sits on the cusp of the transition, incorporating both forward and backward-looking elements into its five movements. The vigorous tremolos that drive the opening Allegro molto point the way to what we think of as Mozart’s “operatic” symphonic style, though these gestures make quite a different effect in Gossec’s solid C major. A Larghetto poco lento alternates pizzicatos with stark octaves before settling into a flowing cantabile. A brief Largo con sordini serves to preface the fourth movement, a fully-fledged fugue in the Handelian manner, capped with two ambivalent half-cadences; the finale, an extended series of contrasting minuets, restores the work’s Classical veneer.

The scores by Johann Baptist Vanhal and Joseph Martin Kraus, however, are the genuine article. Vanhal’s symphony is laid out in four movements to Kraus’s three, but both are rooted firmly in the Classical style. Both composers add horns and oboes to the string orchestra, with Kraus eliciting unusually full-throated chording from them. And both scores betray the influence of the period’s two great models: Haydn, in the prominent solo violin in Vanhal’s Andante; Mozart, in Kraus’s weighty Larghetto introduction and agitated, tensile outer movements. On the other hand, the appealing, listenable themes don’t approach Haydn’s memorable infectiousness or Mozart’s ambivalent emotional layering, though I like the way Vanhal’s finale maintains an aristocratic demeanour amid its anxious drama.

The Capella Coloniensis, a period-instrument ensemble, plays with spirit, alert rhythm, and solid tone under Hans-Martin Linde. The horns can be indiscreet in the Vanhal—their role is supporting, after all—but the strings deliver the runs in Mahaut’s finale with real zest. The recording places the players in a pleasing ambience that doesn’t compromise detail. The booklet note is informative but, given the program’s historical interest, might well have included dates of composition.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, July 2009

Gossec’s five-movement Symphony in B flat is a relatively early work for this master who continued vigorously composing almost to his final days, at the age of 95 in 1824. One can hear in this music by a great experimenter the Mannheim rockets deployed after a deceptively tentative, downwardly walking theme in the first movement; a gallant, long-breathed Larghetto that includes elements of the passacaglia; a solemn, lengthy introduction, leading to a quirky Fugue; and a Minuet that finds sly humor in the alternation between elegance and heavy-footedness. The unusual harmonic richness and individuality of this work, as well as its easy adaptation to chamber orchestration, explains why the composer became a favorite in the early 1760s, his op. 5 symphonies quickly going through three editions, and his op. 6, two.
With Antoine Mahaut we step into an earlier sound world. All three movements of his String Symphony are in the Corellian style, though homophonic elements begin creeping into the second, a pastoral siciliano simply described here by its tempo, Andante. It’s an attractive piece by a composer largely overlooked, today.

Vanhal’s symphonies were noted for many of the same qualities found in Haydn’s early works: lyricism, energy, imagination, thematic economy, and structural unity (notable here between the first and final movements). He was highly regarded in Vienna in the 1760s, and paid according to his worth—enough, at any rate, to buy his way out of serfdom. This minor-key symphonic work was one of several composed during the same period by several composers. Only the Andante in 6/8 time, for solo violin and accompaniment, begins and stays in the major. The grim Minuet and frenetic pair of outer movements are notable both for their range of inspiration and elaborate construction.

The Symphony in C Minor, one of many by Kraus, is the only well-known work on the album…an excellent example of a minor-key Classical symphony that glances back at Baroque grandeur, while possessing a chromatic, nervous sensibility pointing to Haydn’s own so-called Sturm und Drang works. Typically for Kraus, the development of his ideas is primitive for its time, while the ideas themselves are both prolific and striking.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

WDR broadcasts from Cologne offer wonderful performances by Cappella Coloniensis, of clarinet concertos by Carl and Johann Stamitz (Phoenix177) Cherubini’s Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn, beautifully sung by Marilyn Schmiege, Martyn Hill and Paolo Barbacini and Symphony in D Major (Phoenix175), symphonies by Gossec, Vanhal, Mahaut and Kraus (Phoenix174), flute concertos by Frederick the Great, Telemann and Fasch (Phoenix172), overtures by Heinchen, Graupner (with prominent use of a pair of clarinets), Fasch and Graun (noticeably old fashioned) (Phoenix173), and a Haydn disc featuring several cantatas, well sung by Schmiege, the Fourth Violin Concerto, well played by Ingrid Siefert and the Symphony No.92 (Phoenix176). All these discs are worthwhile, but the symphonies, Haydn and Cherubini discs are essential.

Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, May 2009

This is an interesting assortment of symphonies from the classical period. None is a first recording, though there haven’t been many.

Francois-Joseph Gossec (1734–1829) wrote this rather unusual five-movement work that includes a fugue and concludes with a pair of minuets. He published it as his Op. 6:6. It is a rather odd work that begins with a sense of reserve that seems almost timid. It also lacks a significant second theme. III is an almost fumbling sounding slow movement that is followed by the fugue, which has a confident, lilting theme. V is two minuets that lack a true dance rhythm. Yet the whole is a very pleasing combination. I wish the notes indicated when it was composed.

Jan Krtitel (Johann Baptist) Vanhal (1739–1813) greatly impressed the Englishman Charles Burney in the 1770s. This symphony gives ample grounds for his opinion, for its sprightly themes are most interesting. II begins like a violin concerto. III has a fine dance-like trio, while IV is suitably agitated. Vanhal remains one of my favorite late 18th Century Czech-born composers.

Antoine Mahaut (c1720–85) is the most conservative of these composers. His (and Kraus’s) symphony is in only three movements. It really sounds late baroque rather than classical. I am not fond of it.

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-92) has gradually become much better known. He lived almost the same period of time as Mozart, but was based at the Swedish court and wrote quite prolifically. (I have recordings of 18 symphonies by him.) It is interesting to note that Haydn referred to him in the same breath as Mozart. The first movement begins with an impressive sense of passion with amazingly dissonant passages. It lasts longer (10 minutes) than Mahaut’s complete symphony. II is an andante that is carefully balanced and filled with a sense of power; III is a fast movement that races along.

Most of these are 20+-year-old recordings, from 1982 to 1986. No recording date is given for the Gossec, though I suspect it is more recent. The notes are very brief and quite uninformative, and their translation into English is a bit awkward. Hans-Martin Linde and the Cappella Coloniensis give very fine period instrument performances of these works. The recordings are very good despite their age.

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, March 2009

This is one of a generous spate of mid priced reissue compilations released on the Phoenix Edition label, documenting some of the fine 1980s recordings of Capella Coloniensis under various conductors. This disc offers a charming quartet of symphonies by lesser-known composers of the classical period; the performances and recorded sound are excellent, and the pieces are all delightful. A must for any comprehensive classical collection.

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