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aBritish Symphonies
4CDs £16 post-free


W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
Bax, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Berkeley
Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

Van Dieren Chinese Symphony
Searle Symphonies 3, 5
Shaw Piano Concertos 1 and 2

£11.75 post-free

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Editor-in-Chief: Rob Barnett

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Ignaz PLEYEL (1757-1831)
Sinfonia Concertante for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and orchestra in F major [22:19]
Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, bassoon and orchestra in B flat major [19:36]
Sinfonia Concertante for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon, 2 violins and orchestra in F major [27:41]
Bassoon Concerto in B flat major [15:17]
Hanna Dönneweg (bassoon)
SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart/Johannes Moesus
rec. October 2010, SWR Studios, Stuttgart
CPO 777 606-2 [41:55 + 42:58]

Pleyel was a friend of Haydn, though the two worked for rival organisations in London during the 1790s. Haydn’s concerts for Johann Salomon at the Hanover Square rooms remain justly famous, but the Concerts Pleyel were also hugely popular. Pleyel was a particularly skilful composer and his ability to control a complex ensemble is in evidence in this double CD set featuring three sinfonias concertante and a bassoon concerto. The sinfonia concertante was a type of composition that was all the rage across Europe at this time, a hybrid of symphony and concerto that had established itself at the celebrated Mannheim court. Both Haydn and Mozart left fine examples of their own.

The requirement of allowing selected members of the orchestra to shine in a concertante capacity suits the players of the Stuttgart orchestra extremely well, and they acquit themselves with distinction. The recording and acoustic are helpful too, providing atmosphere while allowing clarity of detail. In addition, Pleyel’s Bassoon Concerto is admirably performed by a fine soloist, Hanna Dönneweg. While the pair of discs are only 85 minutes together, barely more than would fit on to a single CD, the price takes note of this.

In the course of his life Pleyel moved on to lead a major publishing house, one of the most important in Europe, with over 400 compositions listed over a 40-year period. Perhaps this was because his fame as a composer dwindled eventually. It is always too easy to attribute reasons for such developments. However, on the evidence of these assembled works the music scores highly on facility and technique, but lower on imagination and drama. In sum, these compositions seem less than the sum of their parts, though they are well worth hearing in these adroit performances.

Terry Barfoot