Friday, March 4, 2011

Baroque Bohemia and Beyond Vol 4 - Myslivecek, Gallina, Vent


In her early 20th-century book The Music of Czechoslovakia, Rosa Newmarch quoted an old Czech proverb that says every Czech is born, not with a silver spoon in his mouth, but with a violin beneath his pillow. Newmarch goes on to say that “the undying and passionate love of their mother tongue and the songs that belong to it, has been a mystical food to the Czech soul, sustaining it through long periods of desolation,” and that “because Czech music is so clearly bound up with Czech history and geography, it is difficult to understand it if we entirely ignore the past.” Portrait of Josef Mysliveček Hence the rationale behind this release and the three that went before it.
One of the periods of desolation mentioned by Ms. Newmarch was the Thirty Years War, which resulted in the conquest and subjugation of Bohemia by the Hapsburgs and eventually in a sort of musical diaspora that saw Bohemian composers speed “by the shortest course to join the mainstream of the world’s music.” As a result, we find in Vienna Josef Bárta and Leopold Koželuh among others; in Berlin there were the Benda brothers; in Mannheim, Jan Stamic and Franz Richter; Antonín Reicha eventually put down roots in Paris; and Josef Mysliveček was to call Italy his home. There were others that found their ways to locations as diverse as London, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg (Russia). Of the six individuals whose music is represented on this CD, only Josef Mysliveček and Josef Fiala were previously known to me as composers, and Jan Vent as an arranger. Jan (or Johann) Vent (variously Went, Wend, Wendt), an oboist in the Emperor’s Harmonie or wind ensemble, is best known for around 50 transcriptions of excerpts from popular 18th-century operas and ballets, most notably the operas of Mozart.
The music of the Bohemian pre-Classical and Classical composers has been an area of interest of mine for several years, and I have managed to acquire some interesting (as well as some not-so-interesting) recordings of music from that region. Among those is a five-CD set on Arte Nova of clarinet concertos of Karl Stamitz (son of Jan Stamic) and several of his colleagues whose music has never been recorded before, and the first three CDs in this series, which I reviewed in Fanfare 31:2 (Nov/Dec 2007).
I said those releases contained “music of inspired talent,” and that they were presented with “an excellent sense of vitality and conviction.” With the arrival of this release a few weeks ago, I found myself faced with yet another release crammed full of exceptionally fine and well-executed music. Of most interest to me were the brief Mysliveček sinfonias and that of Jan Gallina, which replaces the expected oboes with a brace of cor anglais, an emendation that was also adopted by Haydn in his Symphony No. 22, known as “Philosopher.” Josef Bárta’s Symphony in F Minor is an odd duck by way of its employment of the key of F Minor, another technique that was used by Haydn in his Symphony No. 49, “La passione.”
Like its ancestors, this CD sports excellent and insightful repertoire that has been coupled with an energetic and dedicated ensemble. Vibrant and edge-of-the-seat performances are to be found at every turn, and even though there’s not as much as a spark of genius anywhere in the almost hour-and-a-quarter run of this disc, there is much well-crafted music.
These sinfonias show not an emerging form (composers such as Matthias Monn and Georg Wagenseil had already established the symphony as a viable concert genre), but a form that was gradually evolving into what would become Haydn’s dozen “London” symphonies and Mozart’s final half-dozen. So if you have the forerunners in this series, you’ll surely want to acquire this latest release. If you don’t, then wait no longer; you won’t be disappointed.--Michael Carter

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