Franz Xaver DUSSEK (1731-1799)
Sinfonia in G Major (Altner G4) [9:54]
Sinfonia in B-flat Major (Altner Bb2) [10:53]
Sinfonia in A Major (Altner A3) [11:16]
Sinfonia in B-flat Major (Altner Bb3) [21:11]
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen
rec. 1-3 October 2010, Sello Concert Hall, Espoo, Finland
NAXOS 8.572683 [53:53]
By way of an introduction to Dussek I hope I will be forgiven for quoting this text directly from the Naxos CD tray:
Mozart’s friend Franz Xaver Dussek (in whose summer villa he completed ‘Don Giovanni’) was a pianist, celebrated teacher and the leading composer of instrumental music in Prague. Like his compatriot Wanhal, Dussek completed his musical training in Vienna and, unsurprisingly, his works reflect the strong influence of composers such as Hofmann, Haydn and Dittersdorf. Dussek’s symphonies, most of which appear to have been composed in the 1760s and 1770s, are works of great charm and vivacity, cleverly orchestrated and full of striking melodic ideas. 

My only previous encounterwith Dussek was a collection of his keyboard sonatas that I used to hack my way through on the piano as a teenager and these pieces always struck me as melodious, well written, huge fun to play and easy to listen to. Was the music quite in the Haydn or Mozart class? Certainly not but then again how many composers are? This recording of four of the Dussek Sinfonias further cements my thoughts from all those years ago in a very positive way. The music is a breath of fresh air and there’s hardly a dull moment to be heard in the 53 minutes worth of music on this CD. Dussek was a tunesmith. All four symphonies are crammed full of melodies but there’s more to it than that. The orchestration is the work of a true craftsman and the musical ideas are allowed to develop in a true symphonic sense.
The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra sounds much bigger than its role call of 18 players would suggest. The string sound is deep and rich and the forward recording captures the buzz of the cellos and the bright violin timbre that one has come to expect from an ensemble playing on period instruments. Personally I don’t enjoy period performances of large scale orchestral music but for this Dussek set it sounds just right. There’s real fire a sparkle to the playing. In such a string dominated texture the 2 oboes and single bassoon could have done with a little help from the engineer by bringing them into sharper focus - they are somewhat lost. The horns don’t suffer in this way. They have tremendous bite and a delightful authentic ring to their tone.
There’s some fine musicianship on display here with a full range of dynamics. The quieter, slower passages ebb and flow. The phrasing is elastic and everything is allowed time to breathe. There is a tangible sense of communication taking place between the players (as, of course it should). The louder passages are thrown off with great zest and bravura and it’s hard not be swept away with the sheer enthusiasm of it all. The allegros are immaculate in terms of precise articulation and intonation.
When listening to this disc I was reminded of those exciting times in the 1970s when Marriner and the ASMF were setting the recorded music scene alight with their fabulous Argo LPs, especially their set of Rossini sonatas. That sense of discovery allied to superb musicianship was something rather special. From the very first entry this Dussek disc grabs your attention. It’s rather special and at bargain price it needs to be snapped up.  
John Whitmore 

Tuneful music brilliantly performed. 

see also review by David McConnell