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Franz Ignaz BECK (1734-1809)
Symphony in D, Op. 4 No. 1 [19:12]
Symphony in B-flat, Op. 4 No. 2 [22:22]
Symphony in F, Op. 4 No. 3 [18:36]
Overture from L’isle déserte [5:27]
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider
rec. 18-20 Oct. 2005 Sendesaal, DLF, Köln, Germany
CPO 777 033-2 [65:43]

This is one of three of Beck’s symphonies to come out in recent months, with the six Op. 3 examples released on CPO 777034-2 and 999390-2 with the same ensemble, also under the baton of Michael Schneider.  A contemporary of Haydn, Beck has much of the Eszterhazy master’s charm.  Though there is no real way to determine chronological order for the symphonies, the Op. 4 works here appear to be the last of Beck’s symphonies to be published. You can hear the Op. 1 set on Naxos.
Op. 4 No. 1 in D certainly has the greatest amount of kinetic energy, beginning with three forte chords, in the fashion that Parisian society found so exciting in Mozart’s time and which Mozart rather bemusedly indulged in several of his works written specifically for such an audience.  Beck’s symphony carries it further, also ending the opening movement with those forceful three chords.  He stays rather on the forceful side overall in the outer movements, the last movement of Symphony 1 has its joyously rustic outbursts emphasising the upbeat in wide and sudden dynamic shifts.  The two shorter inner movements are quite enjoyable as well, with a slow movement played before a menuetto movement, as with the other two symphonies on this disc.  For Symphony 1, the andante begins in blissful, stately calm, with some chordal changes right around the three-minute mark to keep things interesting. Shortly after, the piece is brought up short twice before continuing on, unruffled.
Symphony No. 2 churns busily along before calming down to a presentation of the thematic material in an extended duet of oboes before the strings and continuo ratchet things up again with a building crescendo.  The piece is charmingly outgoing and enjoyable, and the formula carries over to the more restrained opening movement of Symphony 3, much reminiscent of Haydn.  Again, the main thematic material is iterated by oboe duet, which soon is overtaken by tremolo strings in a - albeit more restrained - crescendo before the cooler heads of the oboes re-take the floor.
Another standout is the Andante arioso second movement of Symphony 3, which glides smoothly along as the strings give the woodwinds a reprieve.  The pauses here in this movement are delicious; a slight hesitation before the development begins. 
As with two of the other Beck releases, included is a theatre music bonus to the symphonies, in this case the overture to L’Isle déserte, one of my favourite pieces on this disc, composed in 1799.  The liner notes, written by the conductor, indicate the use of tone painting, in which the elements of the plot - written by Metastasio, also given musical treatment by Haydn as Isola disabitata - are given rather straightforwardly. These include the sudden storm at sea that strands the two sisters of the play on the island, as well as the rather sad chisel blows - played by the oboe - of one of the sisters as she chips her own suicide statement in stone.  It’s a strange piece to end the disc on, not only from the tone of the piece, but in the fact that it was originally written to begin things.  The disc seems to end with a strange unresolved upward inflection, a statement spoken as a question, but this is rather a small criticism for what is quite enjoyable music.  The review of this SACD is based on playback on various standard players — the sound is excellent, and the recording space gives the ensemble room to breathe without sounding the slightest bit remote or boomy.  La Stagione Frankfurt sound wonderful in this recording, which certainly has me looking forward to future releases.
David Blomenberg


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