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Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709-1789)
Six Grandes Symphonies (1744) Nos.1-6 (Set 1):-
Sinfonia I in B flat major (No.63) [12:57]
Sinfonia II in F Major (No.40) [9:32]
Sinfonia III in C minor (No.13) [11:38]
Sinfonia IV in F major (No.34) [12:29]
Sinfonia V in F major (No.36) [13:42]
Sinfonia VI in B flat major (No.64) [13:08]
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen
rec. Olari Church, Espoo, Finland, 26-28 October 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557818 [73:26]


In 1995, New Zealand musicologist Allan Badley and Klaus Heymann of Naxos fame founded Artaria Editions, invoking the name of the eighteenth century Viennese publishing house which had Hadyn and Mozart on its books and signed up rising stars like Clementi and Beethoven. Over the last decade or so, Badley has been sleuthing around Europe to find obscure scores from the early classical period, dusting them off and tidying them up for the publication of performing editions. Meanwhile, Heymann's Naxos has unearthed excellent orchestras, from Toronto, Sweden, New Zealand and elsewhere to record the music. All of this is cause for much rejoicing. 

Having given us excellent recordings of the music of Joseph Martin Kraus, Joseph Boulogue, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Wenzel Pichl and others, the series now turns to Franz Xaver Richter. Although the CD booklet does not say so, I am fairly sure that these are premiere recordings. There is a disc devoted to Richter's symphonies in the Chandos ‘Contemporaries of Mozart’ series, but there is no overlap between that disc and this one. 

Richter was one of the key figures in the Mannheim school and probably its most conservative member. While his colleagues, like Johann Stamitz, made hay with devices like the ‘Mannheim rocket’ and forged ahead with the new galant style, Richter kept looking over his shoulder at the example of the Baroque masters. 

The six sinfonias collected here come from his time as Kapellmeister to the Prince Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldegg in Kempton, Allgau, a few years before he joined the court of the Elector of Mannheim. They confirm his reverence for the Baroque and demonstrate his admirable facility as a composer. Idiomatically this music sits somewhere between that of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, with a touch of Handel's theatrical swagger. 

Each of these six sinfonias is beautifully crafted. Though short - the longest of the six plays for not quite 14 minutes - each movement is structurally balanced and in proportion to its companions. The first five of the sinfonias consist of three movements - fast, slow, fast, while the sixth bucks the trend somewhat by splitting the first movement into an introductory adagio and a quick fugal second movement. In fact, there is a contrapuntal flavour to each of these sinfonias. He is no fuddy-duddy, though. There are some wonderfully adventurous harmonic touches in the finale of the fifth sinfonia, and the presto finale of the fourth sinfonia has a Haydnesque wit - though Haydn was only 12 when it was published. Although the third sinfonia is the only one of the six in a minor key, Richter frequently modulates into the minor to spice up each of the sinfonias. The antiphonal interplay between the violins placed right and left is delightful - listen to the first movement of the fifth sinfonia, for example. Richter’s finales are also interesting. The second sinfonia ends in stately contrapuntal splendour and Richter opts, respectively, for a courtly and a danceable minuet to conclude the third and sixth sinfonias, rather than a rattling presto. 

This music is charmingly urbane and sophisticated. It is also very well played. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra is a bit of a find. On the evidence of this disc, it is a world class period instrument ensemble. Tuning is immaculate throughout, and phrasing is intelligent and structurally sound. I am looking forward to hearing more from this band. 

As so often with these Artaria recordings, Allan Badley provides scholarly and informative liner notes. If you have any interest in "big C" Classical music, you will enjoy this disc.
Tim Perry




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