Wagenseil is one of that interesting group of composers whose
music helped develop and establish the new classical style as
the 18th century progressed. He was a prolific composer
who was held in high esteem by his contemporaries, and his work
at the Habsburg Court included the composition of some sixty symphonies.
Among later musicians, Haydn and Mozart knew his music - at least
from the printed scores - and admired it. Most notably, Wagenseil
established the combination of first subject in the tonic key
and second subject in the dominant, while also employing contrasts
between major and minor keys.
If he is best known for his contribution
to the development of the symphony, Wagenseil’s interest in
the concerto should not to be overlooked. He worked with talented
musicians and therefore wrote music for them. In that sense
these performances by the chamber orchestra Echo du Danube follow
the correct procedure in employing soloists from within their
own company, though perhaps it seems a little churlish only
to mention the identities of these individual performers in
the small print at the end of the booklet.
That booklet does an excellent job in supporting
this little known music, with a thorough essay about the man
and the music, written by Helga Scholz-Michelitsch and translated
very effectively by Debbie Hogg - other labels take note: it
can be done. The layout is clear and unfussy.
These high production standards extend to
the quality of the recording too. There is a good sense of atmosphere
and the balance is expertly managed, so that the details emerge
and the sonorities are effective. As for the music itself, this
is interesting rather than compelling. In the longer lines of
the central slow movements, interest is not always maintained
in terms of the quality of the invention, though all the notes
are present and correct. In the outer, quicker, movements, there
is that same chronic short-windedness that can be found in so
much of the music of the pre-classical era, which is why it
is seldom heard in live concerts and remains on the fringes
of the repertoire.
Echo du Danube acquit themselves well, striking
an effective compromise between scholarly accuracy and artistic
expression. If the results are largely unmemorable it is not
because the performers have let the side down, it is simply
the nature of the music itself, which is accomplished but ultimately
presents a whole that is less than the sum of the parts. This
is a disc that will give pleasure but is unlikely to become
a firm favourite.