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Baroque Bohemia & Beyond Volume 4
Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737-1781)
Sinfonia III in C major (1763) [9:55]
Jan Adam GALLINA (1724-1773)
Sinfonia in E flat major [13:17]
Jan VENT (1745-1801)
Sinfonia in E flat major [18:20]
Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737-1781)
Sinfonia VI in D major (1763) [6:13]
Josef BÁRTA (c.1744-1787)
Sinfonia in F minor [14:26]
Josef FIALA (1748-1816)
Sinfonia in F major [9:10]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra/Zdenĕk Adam (artistic director),
Vojtĕch Spurný (harpsichord, conductor)
rec. May 2007, Studio Arco Diva Domovina, Prague
ALTO ALC1014 [72:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Jonathan Woolf gave a warm welcome to the three preceding volumes in this series and there is no great reason why one should not treat the fourth volume similarly. And yet, it has to be said, quite a lot of the music here is worthy rather than especially exciting. This is probably best regarded as a disc for those with a particular interest in the field, rather than for the general listener.
Josef Mysliveček is the one composer represented twice in this anthology. Born in village near Prague, the son of a successful miller, Mysliveček initially followed in his father’s trade. After the death of his father, however, he passed on his share of the business to his brother and concentrated on making a new career in music, having previously studied the organ, the violin and composition. He went on to study in Venice with Giovanni Pescetti, and made something of a career for himself in Italy; Mozart thought quite well of his work. An excessive fondness for drink – and for other men’s wives (venereal disease cost him his nose) – led to his death in poverty in Rome. The two Sinfonias played here are pleasant, if less colourful than the life story of their composer. They are relatively conventional, each in three movements (allegro-andantino-presto); in both cases the opening allegros are attractively energetic, the central andantinos have a mild charm and the closing prestos are engaging.
Mysliveček had connections with the Pachtas, an important family whose estate at Citoliby, some forty miles from Prague, was an important centre of musical patronage. Jan Adam Gallina was, for a time, musical director at Citoliby. He is represented here by a very attractive four-movement Sinfonia. There is consistent inventiveness in the use of orchestral colours, some nice transitional passages and some effective contrasts of tempo and dynamics. In the andante the writing for woodwinds has real poignancy and in the menuetto there is a boisterous (yet dignified) energy that such movements don’t always have. There is some attractive writing for the horns - played by Zdeněk Adam and Romana Mazákova.  It seems that only a small proportion of Galina’s orchestral work survives – a shame if it was all as good as this Sinfonia.
Jan Vent, son of a fiddle-playing cobbler, was born near Citoliby. After some musical studies in Prague - he was an oboist of some distinction - he too worked for the Pachtas. He went on to work in Vienna where, amongst other things, he made arrangements of ‘hits’ from Mozart operas for wind band. His Sinfonia in E flat major is also in four movements, pleasant but unremarkable, less striking than Galina’s composition in the same key.
Bárta, born in Prague in the mid 1740s, he was working – with some success – in Vienna from the beginning of the 1770s. He wrote a number of operas and singspiels, string quartets and symphonies. The first movement of his Sinfonia in F minor starts with a rather solemn adagio which mutates into a bubbly allegro; the central menuetto dances along engagingly and the closing allegro is music of Haydnesque expressiveness and dynamism. Of another Sinfonia by Bárta which appeared on Volume 1 of this series Jonathan Woolf said that it was “a good example of Sturm und Drang in compressed form”. So is this one – vigorous, intense, quasi-dramatic music. It would be good to hear more of Bárta’s work; a CD or two devoted just to him would, I suspect, be an interesting proposition.
The closing work on this CD is by Josef Fiala, who was born some thirty miles south-west of Prague at Lochovice. An oboist (like Vent he studied with Jan Stiastny in Prague) who could double on cello and viola da gamba, Fiala worked for a series of aristocratic masters, including the Elector Maximilian Joseph in Munich. Mozart encountered him and his music there and in a letter to his father described Fiala’s music as “pretty”. That gets it about right – this Sinfonia in F major is graceful and pleasant without ever achieving any real sense of weight or substance or developing any very distinctive characteristics. Pleasant and pretty, worth hearing, but less than memorable.
The modern-instrument ensemble of the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra plays stylishly and with commitment; just once or twice I found myself wondering if some of this music - notably that of Bárta and Gallina - might not have benefited from slightly more sense of drama. But such a quibble shouldn’t be allowed to put off anyone with an interest in the music of this time and place, especially as several of these pieces are here receiving their very first recordings.
Glyn Pursglove


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