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Paul WRANITZKY (1756-1808)
Grande sinfonie caractéristique pour la paix avec la Republique française, in C minor Op. 31 (1797) [32.34]
Symphony in D major, Op. 52 (1804-5) [24.35]
NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover/Howard Griffiths (conductor)
rec. Grosser Sendesaal, NDR, Hannover, April 2004. SACD/CD DDD.
CPO 777 054-2 [57.11]

The Belgian violinist and musicologist François Joseph Fétis (1784–1871) once commented: “The music of [Paul] Wranitzky was in fashion when it was new because of his natural melodies and brilliant style. He treats the orchestra well, especially in symphonies. I recall that, in my youth, his works held up very well in comparison with those of Haydn. Their premature abandonment of today has been for me a source of astonishment.”

Being an exact contemporary of Mozart, 2006 was also the 250th anniversary of his birth, and 2008 will mark the 200th anniversary of his death. He was all but overlooked in the past year given the dominance of Mozart upon the musical scene. However it is to be hoped that he will grab some more attention in the future.  Some indication that this might happen is indicated by two recent written accounts of his work becoming available.

This disc contains two of Paul Wranitzky’s most involving symphonies. Bohemian in origin, Wranitzky moved to Vienna where, along with his brother Anton, he quickly established a reputation as a competent and colourful composer. He writes in the high Viennese style, and his melodies have a certain brio and swagger about them. Only occasionally does his writing seem a touch formulaic compared with the inventiveness of Mozart. Although it is tempting to linger on the comparison given that the two men knew and respected each other, it is fruitless to do so. If one is searching for comparisons far better are the models of Haydn and Dittersdorf. The latter’s “Symphony of five nations” might in some respects be a kind of blueprint for the Grande sinfonie, op. 31. The programme is one of war, tumult, attack and defence, all of which are clearly articulated in Wranitzky’s score as it charts the path from C minor to blazing C major.

The performance given by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under conductor Howard Griffiths convinces of the symphony’s power and mastery of structure. True, there is some reliance upon the march, but given the subject matter this might hardly have been avoided.  Griffiths injects plenty of punch and passion into the work. Listening on a stereo CD player and not SACD, much of Wranitzky’s care with orchestral balance still comes across as having been attentively observed, as has his fondness for interweaving string and wind lines. There are moments of genuinely arresting originality that surpass anything found in Beethoven’s rather lame-duck “Wellington’s Victory”, for a start. Take the bass drum and timpani cannon fire in the third movement as but one example, all of which is captured with ample atmosphere in this no-nonsense recording.

The D major symphony, op. 52, by comparison should be counted as one of Wranitzky’s more ordinary works in the genre, having no grand programme to fulfil. It is upbeat and festive in mood from the first. The third movement shows an affinity to Haydn’s London symphonies, though contrasts of material and a certain rustic character find their way into the music also. Exactly how memorable you’ll find this music in long run I can’t say, but there is no doubting its ability to draw you in and involve one fully as it is being played.

Wranitzky proves a momentarily interesting composer whose symphonies form a useful link between those of Haydn, Mozart and the young Beethoven. They are given committed advocacy here, and supported by usefully detailed notes from Bert Hagels. Those keen to know or hear more are directed to the links and literature below. 

Evan Dickerson

Further listening:

Symphonies Opp. 11, 31 and 36: London Mozart Players/Matthias Bamert (Chandos CD 9916)

Further reading:

The Wranitzky Project website

David Wyn Jones: The Symphony in Beethoven’s Vienna. Cambridge UP, 2006. 231pp. Hardback. ISBN: 0-521-86261-2



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