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Johann Baptist VANHAL (1739-1813)
Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in C [16:05]
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in C [15:50]
Concerto for Oboe and Strings in F Major [12:21]
Concerto for 2 Bassoons and Orchestra in F Major [22:52]
Luc Loubry (bassoon)
Francois Baptiste (bassoon)
Michel Lethiec (clarinet)
Piet Van Bockstal (oboe)
The Prussian Chamber Orchestra/Hans Rotman
rec. No details of dates or venue provided.
TALENT RECORDS DOM 2910 75 [67:38]


Talent Records continue to explore lesser-known Classical repertoire.

My 1922 complete edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians does not even contain an entry for Vanhal which goes to demonstrate just how his music fell out of favour for so many years. I have nevertheless managed to unearth a few biographical details. He was born in Nechanice in Bohemia 1739 out of Czech peasant stock who were indentured to the Schaffgotsch estates. Despite his unprivileged beginnings he was able to provide for himself by working as an organist and as choirmaster in local townships.

Vanhal found himself a wealthy sponsor when the Countess Schaffgotsch heard him performing on the violin and persuaded him to move to Vienna around 1760. There he obtained lessons from the eminent violinist and composer Karl von Dittersdorf who as an associate of Haydn and Gluck was extremely well connected. A highly prolific composer in most genres it was said that Vanhal was the first composer to earn his living entirely from writing and performing music. Eventually his music became much admired and was widely performed. For a time Vanhal toured extensively around Europe and he moved in the most exalted of musical circles. I am fascinated by the anecdote that at a recital in Vienna in 1784 organised by the composer Stephen Storace, Vanhal played the cello in a string quartet with Haydn as first violin, Von Dittersdorf second violin and Mozart on viola. Having broken free from the indentures of his family’s serfdom and having achieved considerable fame in his chosen vocation for the final thirty or so years of his life it seems that Vanhal progressively withdrew from public life and died in Vienna in 1813.    

He composed a substantial number of concertos although to ascertain the actual number does not seem currently possible as I am not aware of any comprehensive cataloguing of his scores and it is rare to obtain composition dates. In addition to his renowned prowess on the violin Vanhal evidently played several other instruments. As he wrote a substantial number of concertos for woodwind it is thought that he was able to play various wind instruments and certainly these four concertos demonstrate a clear understanding and predilection for woodwind.         

The four talented performers clearly have the full measure of this repertoire and the accompaniment is commendable. An impressive feature of these performances is the highly impressive timbre provided by each of the players which the sound engineers capture superbly.

In the Bassoon Concerto we are not informed which of the two bassoonists is performing. Luc Loubry wrote the cadenza so it would seem likely that he is the performer of his own music. In the Bassoon Concerto I was immediately impressed with the superb tone from the bassoon, although one can clearly hear the operation of the keys this didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment. Our steadfast soloist is whimsical in the opening allegro and provides a sensitive reading of the tender adagio movement. To close the work I really enjoyed the fresh and lively interpretation of the rondo, allegro.

Soloist Michel Lethiec in the Clarinet Concerto is an expressive and stalwart performer as displayed in the noble opening movement allegro. Lethiec’s playing of the adagio is eloquent and good humoured in the lyrical closing rondo, allegretto. The Oboe Concerto is outstandingly performed. I was highly impressed with his fluent reading of the courtly and melodic allegro moderato that opens the score. Van Bockstal’s playing is deeply felt in the adagio and briskly immediate in the light-hearted closing movement presto. The Double Bassoon Concerto performed by Luc Loubry and Francois Baptiste is clearly an excellent score that deserves to be heard far more frequently. The duo are authoritative with an impressive unity in the demanding and lengthy thirteen minute opening movement allegro moderato. I was highly delighted with their responsive reading of the rather serious lyricism of the andante grazioso and in the good humoured finale, allegro their playing is breezy and compelling.

Although no details of the recording location and dates are provided I can report a crisp and clear, well-balanced sound quality. The content of the booklet notes is very disappointing which rather detracts from the presentation.

This superbly performed and recorded Classic Talent release should suit those looking for something different from a rarely heard composer who was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart.

Michael Cookson   




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