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Wenzel PICHL (1741-1805)
Sinfonia in C major, ‘Calliope’, Zakin 11 (c. 1768-1769) [14:26]
Sinfonia in B flat major, ‘Melpomene’, Zakin 14 (c. 1768-1769) [19:08]
Sinfonia in E major, ‘Clio’, Zakin 8 (c. 1768-1769) [17:53]
Sinfonia in D major, ‘Diana’, Zakin 16 (c. 1768-1769) [21:35]
Toronto Chamber Orchestra/Kevin Mallon
rec. St Anne’s Church, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2-5 January 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557761 [73:02] 

Wenzel Pichl is hardly a household name, but in his day he was as big a figure as any in the Mannheim set. He was a close friend of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, and no less a musician than Haydn performed his music at Eszterháza. It is easy to see why. Pichl's music is stylish, skilfully composed and unfailingly delightful. 

The four symphonies collected here are compact, polished creations that introduce and develop their material with great facility and never outstay their welcome. Outer movements are brisk, tuneful and jolly; andantes and minuets are charming. Like Dittersdorf, Pichl was interested in classical mythology and gave his symphonies names from antiquity. I cannot say that I was readily able to identify the muses painted by the first three, or the goddess painted by the fourth, from the music itself. However, I suspect that this has more to do with Pichl's subtlety than any arbitrariness on his part. For example, the third symphony on this disc, dedicated to Clio, the muse of history, features an andante full of archaic counterpoint. The first movement of the symphony named for Diana features a two note motif that could be suggestive of the hunt, though he does not resort to horn calls that would have been a more obvious clue. In any case, whether or not you can tie these symphonies to their immortal namesakes, you will almost certainly enjoy them.

Kevin Mallon and his Toronto band play Pichl's symphonies with style and enthusiasm. Their committed advocacy of rarely heard music is one of the major selling points of a growing number of Naxos discs, and this one is no exception. For the record, their instruments are modern, but their performance style is period-sensitive, with minimal vibrato from the strings and hard sticks for the timpani. There is no harpsichord continuo; none is necessary. 

The recorded sound is excellent and Allan Badley's liner notes provide helpful biographical information, though a little more detail on the music itself would have been welcome. 

This well filled and attractively priced disc can be warmly recommended to anyone looking to explore the Classical era beyond Haydn and Mozart. 

Tim Perry 

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove 




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