With this release, we see Chandos pushing
past twenty discs in its enjoyable ‘Contemporaries of Mozart’
series, which has seen a number of premiere recordings; there
are three on this disc. Richter was a member of the “Mannheim
School”, moving to that city in 1747. Richter, though older
than the other composers associated with that group, doesn’t
appear to have gone in for their “Mannheim Rocket” and other
such devices as wholeheartedly as others. As one would expect,
not many of the hallmarks of the Mannheim School are in great
evidence here. Richard Lawrence, in his very helpful liner notes,
indicates that Richter thought such ploys to secure the esteem
of the contemporary public in poor taste. Mozart mentions Richter
- serving then as Kapellmeister at Strasbourg - in a letter
to his father, stating that he “now lives very economically,
for instead of forty bottles of wine a day he only swills about
twenty.” Such dipsomania, however exaggerated, certainly didn’t
cut down on Richter’s output, which, according to Lawrence,
amounts to over eighty symphonies, thirty-nine masses, three
Requiems and other pieces.
The opening symphony, number 53 in D,
certainly brings things off with a bang — its laudatory “trombe
da guerra” and tympani give the piece a sound that is rather
like Bach-meets-Haydn-meets-Royal Fireworks. The ending triple
meter presto assai is one of my favourite new pieces.
The symphony as a whole is greatly engaging and vigorous, and
the London Mozart Players perform this with a wonderful clarity
Symphony 56 reminds one often of the Sinfonia
movements in Bach’s cantatas, only with the scoring of oboe
and horn taking the place of the pipe organ continuo. The first
movement Allegro con spirito brings us into more pensive
stuff than the wonderfully gregarious and optimistic No. 53.
In listening to these symphonias, one gets the sense that the
slow movements are less the centrepieces of the work than a
sort of pausing to rest in between the energetic outer movements.
The overall tone of these slow central movements is light and
airy, here with the No. 53 scored solely for strings and harpsichord
continuo. In the Allegro molto finale, the violins move
with occasionally brusque certainty over the paired horn and
lower strings which urgently mark time, adding an almost frantic
Symphony No. 29 opens with a wonderfully-wrought
slow section that arrives at a descending figure. An anticipatory
cadence then leads us into the Allegro section, which
uses the descending phrase as material for an energetic fugue.
This fugue ends in a way that keeps the listener still at the
edge of the chair when the Andante second movement interrupts
with its measured and refined pace. It’s as if the storminess
of the symphonia had to stop in mid-drive for a pair of dignified
pedestrians to cross the street. Then it tumbles forward again
in the closing Presto movement, in triple meter, which
seems if this disc is any fair indication to be a Richter trademark
for his closing movements.
The other premier recording is the No.
43 in F minor, which closes this disc. The opening section is
rather terse, building gradually to an emphatic statement before
quieting down with a brighter outlook in relative major. This
movement lacks the immediate appeal of the other first movements,
but this is quite enjoyable stuff nonetheless. The Andante
grazioso’s writing is simple and uncluttered, with pleasing
lines. Here, one again gets the sense that the slow central movements
are seen less as a centrepiece and more as a palate-cleanser before
the symphony gets busily back to business with the somewhat stern
final movement. This is no great criticism, however — this music
is wonderfully engaging and enjoyable, outgoing and erudite.
The sound quality and performance found
on this recording is up to the high standard you’d expect from
Chandos. This disc has been a frequent guest in my car CD player
as well as in my home system, and is recommended for those who
enjoy Bach’s orchestral music. These pieces warrant more frequent
performance on stage and the case for these pieces is extremely
well put across by the London Mozart Players.