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Franz Ignaz BECK (1734-1809)
Symphonies Op. 4 (1766)
No. 1 in D major [20:00]
No. 2 in B flat major [19:27]
No. 3 in F major [20:20]
Symphonies Op. 3 (1762)
No. 6 in D major [15:26]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Marek Štilec
rec. The House of Music Pardubice, Czech Republic, 27 August-6 September 2013
NAXOS 8.573248 [75:31]

The continually enterprising Naxos label here present the third disc of symphonies by the relatively obscure composer Franz Beck. Both of the earlier CDs have been reviewed here: Op. 1 and Op. 3. The present disc is the first of two to feature the more substantial Op. 4 set. There is also a 3 CD box on CPO which includes the Op. 3 and some of Op. 4.

Franz Beck will for many be an unknown composer or at best just a name. He was born in Mannheim, was a pupil of Johann Stamitz and spent the majority of his life in France where he became the director of the Bordeaux Grand Theatre. As well as being a composer he was a violinist, conductor and music teacher. Before then he’d apparently had to leave Mannheim after a duel and after a spell in Italy he eloped from Venice.

Beck is regarded as one of the prime examples of the Second Mannheim school. Here, as in Op. 3, he adopted the four-movement symphony - a pattern followed by many of his fellow composers. This structure has the effect of not only lengthening the symphony but materially changing its dramatic flow. The detailed notes that, as usual with Naxos are excellent, go into detail as to the compositional structure and Beck’s use of sequential patterns built around the contrapuntal interplay of voices. As an example I was particularly struck by the Andantino un poco allegro in Sinfonia Number 2. Here one can see some similarity with Boccherini or early Haydn. Lovers of these composers' serenades — although Haydn’s is misattributed — will surely find pleasure from this. The slow movement Andante arioso of Sinfonia Number 3 is very delicate and charming. Beck was also one of the first composers to utilize wind instruments in the minuets and these are most effective. The finales are lively, melodic and exciting with full use of the orchestra. An example is the chirpy Presto ma non troppo of Sinfonia Number 3, which has great joie de vivre and impressive horns. It could, at a considerable stretch be seen as an embryo for the finale of Mozart’s Symphony 29. The strange thing is that, having achieved some considerable prowess in writing symphonies, the 32-year-old composer then abandoned the format for the remaining 43 years of his life.

These symphonies are in the hands of the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Marek Štilec. The orchestra was formed in 1969 and its first principal conductor was Libor Pešek. One of its guest conductors has been Douglas Bostock. They certainly seem a highly accomplished chamber orchestra — ideal for late eighteenth century repertoire. Marek Štilec was born in Prague in 1985 and began his studies at the Prague Conservatoire in the violin class of Dana Vlachová. He studied conducting with Leoš Svárovský, graduating from the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. He would appear to have a very promising future ahead of him — see his Fibich series, also for Naxos. The recording is first rate and captures the sound of the chamber orchestra most effectively.

These Symphonies are by no means masterworks but they are very pleasant and melodic. This disc should certainly appeal to lovers of early Haydn and Mozart. Here is a composer who mastered the symphonic medium and it is to be regretted that having reached that point he then abandoned the form.

David R Dunsmore