> DUSSEK Three Sinfonias 8555878 [DB]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz Xavier DUSSEK (1731 - 1799)
Sinfonia in G major (Altner G2)
Sinfonia in E flat major (Altner Eb3)
Sinfonia in F major (Altner F4)
Helios 18 conducted by Marie-Louise Oschatz
The 18th Century Symphony:
Recorded in Vienna August 2001 - DDD Stereo
NAXOS 8.555878 [68:53]


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F.X. Dussek seems to be almost new to the CD catalogues. I say "almost" because Naxos do not declare these to be premiere recordings. Yet, search though one might, no more seems to be in the public domain. Dussek was a Bohemian composer active in the second half of the 18th century in Prague. He is not to be confused with Jan Ladislav Dussek a slightly later composer famed for his piano music. The Concise Grove is careful to avoid confusion by spelling the present one Dušek. The excellent notes by Dr Allan Badley, a New Zealand musicologist, must be as close to definitive as possible since he is responsible for the preparation for publication of these and a few other symphonies by Dussek. So far as I can tell his is the only expert voice. He is a driving force behind Naxos’s excellent series, of which this is part - The 18th Century Symphony. Dussek must be compared with Vanhal, Wagenseil, Hofmann and indeed no less a figure than Mozart, whom he knew quite well. The three symphonies recorded here are uniformly enjoyable and include their fair share of delightfully weird effects, to show us that Haydn was not the only humourist of the 18th century symphony. The first movement of the E flat Sinfonia is typical of the inventiveness and variety with which our ears are charmed throughout.

But I am not totally won over by this disc, despite its rarity value, because the period orchestra Helios 18, just that number of young musicians, seems dogged by odd intonation. At times, listening to this disc was like hearing a slightly off-centre LP. Indeed, were it not for the clear statement of recording date (see above) I might have wondered if a rogue analogue tape had emerged from Dr Badley’s researches in the archives. Generally the orchestra plays with enthusiasm and enough virtuosity to make listening a pleasure. There are passages, the finale of the last Sinfonia in F major for example, where the rhythmic complexity of the music is handled with real aplomb.

The recording has its weaknesses, the bass tends to boom, and the sound has not got much space around it. But, praise be, the harpsichord is properly balanced within the texture and is thus just audible, as it should be.

The biographical note on the orchestra and its director Marie-Louise Oschatz, plus the CD cover blurb, were clearly not written by the skilled and erudite Dr Badley, for, factual matter apart, they are full of non sequiturs and plain nonsense. At one point it seems to be suggested that the orchestra is not attempting to reconstruct authentic performances but playing on authentic instruments because the music sounds right that way. Er, what’s the difference?

Dave Billinge

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