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Franz Ignaz BECK (1734-1809)
Symphony in G minor, op.3 no.3 (1772) [17:58]
Symphony in D minor, op.3 no.5 (1772) [17:57]
Symphony in E flat, op.3 no.4 (1772) [18:05]
Symphony in D, op.3 no.6 (1772) [14:06]
Symphony in B flat, op.3 no.2 (1772) [15:48]
Symphony in F, op.3 no.1 (1772) [16:27]
La Mort d'Orphée - Overture [6:09]
Symphony in D, op.4 no.1 (1772) [19:12]
Symphony in B flat, op.4 no.2 (1772) [22:22]
Symphony in F, op.4 no.3 (1772) [18:36]
L'Isle Déserte - Overture [5:27]
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider
rec. Deutschlandfunk Sendessaal, Cologne, October 1995, July 2004, 18-20 October 2005*.
CPO 777 880-2 [2 CDs and 1 hybrid SACD*: 52:51 + 54:20 + 65:43*] 

These three discs are available either separately (999 390-2, 777 034-2, 777 033-2) or, now, in a boxed set. This CPO have done on the cheap, it should be said, simply slotting the original discs unaltered into a shiny card envelope that is so tight that the extraction of any disc from it presents a challenge. Even the curiously misleading cover picture is identical to one of the previous releases. Nor is there much of a saving over three individual discs - some retailers are offering none at all.
 
The fact that CPO released the first volume back in 1996, and the third as long ago as 2005, indicates that the label is in no hurry to record the remaining works. Indeed, the three CDs were reissued more or less concurrently in 2007, so the latest repackaging suggests little more than an entirely reasonable attempt to boost sales.
 
The music, performances and audio are first-class, however. Beck is a key figure of the so-called 'Mannheim School', whose number included the likes of Johann and Carl Stamitz, F X Richter and Christian Cannabich. The school, centred around the splendid orchestra in Beck's birthplace, Mannheim, is best remembered today for the influence it had on Viennese classicism, above all on the symphonies of Beck's close contemporary, Joseph Haydn. Yet Beck's own symphonies deserve their own space in the repertoire, as these three recordings by the rather excellent La Stagione under Michael Schneider - happily still going strong today as a team - testify.
 
In fact, in his detailed, interesting notes, Schneider goes as far as to describe Beck as "among the most unique and original composers from the second half of the eighteenth century", attributing his relative obscurity to the fact that he spent much of his life in Bordeaux, well away from the major European cultural centres.
 
One striking aspect of Beck's symphonies is the fact that they are peppered with some terrific writing for wind instruments. This, a typical four-movement structure and Beck's use of tutti crescendos are Mannheim School characteristics - all of which can be heard in many of Haydn's symphonies, even mature ones. A similar sense of rhythmic vitality, melodic reliability and harmonic adventure also raise Beck's scores far above the average. Period specialists La Stagione and Michael Schneider's recordings of Telemann in particular have been warmly widely praised and the present offerings, vital and substantive, at times seeming more pre-Romantic than pre-Classical, would be equally, if only Beck's reputation could gather some deserved momentum.
 
Eighteenth century connoisseurs will enjoy these discs at any rate. The high retail price may, reasonably, be a deterrent to the acquisition of all three, in which case any one will generally do as well as the other two. 999 390-2 has some of Beck's most thrilling Sturm und Drang music, 777 034-2 sees Beck at his most harmonically and structurally adventurous, whilst 777 033-2 has the twofold advantage of an extra ten minutes and SuperAudio quality.
 
All three discs are expertly recorded, in fact, and the trilingual booklets offer plenty of detail and a few photographs. The set title '9 Symphonies' may suggest to some that this is Beck's complete works in the genre, but not so: there are in fact at least 30 extant, 24 of which were conveniently published in France between 1758 and 1766 in sets of six as his opp.1, 2, 3 and 4. An early Naxos disc (8.553790) of Beck symphonies, by the way, ascribes misleading opus numbers to two of them, 10/2 and 13/1 - these were in fact single items published in multi-composer anthologies.
 
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