Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A new Bohemian symphonies series from Naxos

Leopold Koželuch is comfortably in the second rank of composers who look up - a fair way to be sure - to Mozart and Haydn. He rubs shoulders with Gluck, Michael Haydn, Rossetti and Kraus. He wrote a great deal of serious and accessible music, characterized by some melodic charm and honest craftsmanship. Occasionally lightning strikes and Koželuch produces something really memorable. I've been following Kemp English's complete piano music series for Grand Piano, and am more and more impressed as he gets to Koželuch's later sonatas. The composer's forays into Sturm und Drang are fascinating; Koželuch seemed to have his finger on the pulse of musical trends in Europe.

I know Koželuch's symphonies from two recordings: by Concerto Köln from 2001 and The London Mozart Players from 1999. Both came from series that presented music by Haydn and Mozart's contemporaries: Leopold Mozart, Josef Myslivecek, Anton Salieri, William Herschel, Carl Stamitz and the like. Both of these series are absolutely superb. From them I learned so much about 18th century music - and incidentally about Haydn and Mozart themselves.

This is volume one of a projected series of complete symphonies. It also carries the subtitle Czech Masters in Vienna, which I hope will point to more music by other Czech composers at work during Mozart and Haydn's lifetimes. The symphonies chosen here show the Bohemian composer veering between Haydn-like fun and Mozartian theatricality. The G minor Symphony is really outstanding; this is the closest Koželuch comes to Wolfgang Amadeus. The London Mozart Players version is hard to beat:

Indeed, the new version is pitched at a lower dramatic temperature from the beginning. Marek Stilec leaves something in reserve for later in the movement. Alas, Koželuch is no Mozart, but the soft passage just before the end of the movement is very affecting and effective, and the new recording shines at that point.

So now we have the beginnings of two very promising symphonic series from the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice and Marek Stilec, of Michael Haydn and Leopold Koželuch. I'm really looking forward to future releases in both.

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