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Johann Baptist VAŇHAL (1739-1813)
Symphonies - Vol. 4
Symphony in E minor, Bryan e3 (1760-1762) [15:19]
Symphony in C major, Bryan C1 (1763-1765) [17:56]
Symphony in C major, Bryan C17 (1775-1778) [15:49]
Symphony in E flat major, Bryan Eb1 (?) “La Tempesta” [17:07]
Toronto Chamber Orchestra/Kevin Mallon rec. St. Anne's Church, Toronto, Canada, 15-17 July 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.570280 [66:12] 
Experience Classicsonline

The first volume in Naxos's journey through the symphonies of Johann Baptist Vaňhal appeared in 1999, so this fourth volume has been a long time in coming.  I wonder if the slow progress of the series is linked to Paul Bryan's painstaking preparation of the scores of Vaňhal's works for Artaria Editions.  Whatever the reason, this disc has been worth the wait.  Each of the symphonies presented here is slender, stylish and deftly constructed.  Vaňhal was almost an exact contemporary of Joseph Haydn, and the polish and élan of his music illustrates why he was also one of the most successful Viennese composers of his day.

There is a whiff of Sturm und Drang in the pulsing first movement of the early E minor symphony, and the minor mode spices the third movement Menuetto and Trio and the helter-skelter of the final Contratanz.  The smiling andante, placed second, provides contrast, as does the bright but slight second subject of the final movement. 

As Paul Bryan points out in his erudite booklet notes, the C major symphony Bryan C1 was one of Vaňhal’s most popular and well known compositions, published as far afield as London and Paris and surviving to the present day in as many as 18 manuscript copies.  This cheery symphony is also cleverly constructed, with a first movement that is built from a brief motif, a canonic andante and a skipping finale, which ideally would pack a weightier punch than it does in this otherwise stylish performance. 

The C major symphony Bryan C17 is a late work and, according to the liner notes, was performed by Haydn from the manuscript copies in the collection of Prince Esterházy.  The second movement is notable for its prominent use of winds and Vaňhal’s interesting orchestral textures generally.  The finale references the first and second movements to give the work a cyclical unity. 

The Eb major symphony that closes the disc has a sobriquet: La Tempesta.  While it is no Pastoral Symphony, it is illustrative of a storm, with Vaňhal deploying a rising semiquaver “storm” figure that features prominently in the finale and appears in each of the preceding movements to give the whole piece a cyclical feel. 

The Toronto Chamber Orchestra – which also appeared on volume 3 in this series – play modern instruments in the period style, eschewing vibrato and generally painting in clear clean lines.  The mushy boom of the timpani – particularly in the first and third movements of the C major symphony Bryan C1 and the first movement of the C major symphony Bryan C17 – is a bit distracting, but otherwise there is little to complain about on this album and much to enjoy.

Tim Perry

see also Reviews of Volume 2 and Volume 3 in this series


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