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
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
also Reviews of Volume
2 and Volume
3 in this series