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Leopold KOŽELUCH (1747-1818)
Symphonies - Volume 1
Symphony in A major, PosK I:7 [20:23]
Symphony in C major, PosK I:6 [20:53]
Symphony in D major, PosK I:3 [18:04]
Symphony in G minor, PosK I:5 [17:16]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Marek Štilec
rec. February 2016, The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic
NAXOS 8.573627 [76:55]

Piano Concerto No. 1 in F major (1784) [27:00]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major (1785) [25:06]
Piano Concerto No. 6 in C major (1786) [23:33]
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. December 2015, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
Reviewed as CD quality download (16bit/44kHz FLAC) from Hyperion
HYPERION CDA68154 [75:41]

There were a number of Bohemian composers working in Vienna towards the end of the eighteenth century, Gluck and Vaňhal being the best known, but at that time Leopold Koželuch was also highly respected. Like so many composers of that era, his music has been largely forgotten because of the gigantic shadows cast by Mozart and Haydn.

The Grand Piano label has done most in recent times to return his name to the listening public’s attention, with nine releases of his keyboard sonatas: the most recent reviewed on this site was Volume 6 last year. Now within the space of a few months, we have two releases presenting some of his eleven symphonies and twenty-two piano concertos. The former have not been entirely ignored: there was one volume on Chandos’s admirable Contemporaries of Mozart series, as well as one on Elatus by Concerto Köln; each has one work in common with this new Naxos release. The concertos are scarcer: only one previous release (Oehms), sadly with two of the works in common.

With music of this era, you are rarely in for a surprise. The style was very consistent across the continent, and few composers beyond the big two produced works that have lasting appeal and a distinctive sound. I can report that Koželuch fits into the “no surprise” category, but there is no doubting his skills. These works are definitely at the finer end of the scale, approaching the greats at his best – the two C major works – and always graceful and effortlessly pleasing.

Performances on both recordings are all one could hope for. I compared the D major symphony which is in common between this recording and the Chandos, and found little difference, except that a harpsichord is employed, quite subtly, in the Czech orchestra as a “rhythm instrument”; I don’t think it’s appropriate to call it a basso continuo, given the era. In the concerto comparison, the differences are more clear cut. Howard Shelley has a much richer acoustic, and a far warmer-sounding piano than the Oehms recording. He also adopts somewhat faster tempos, especially in the Andante middle movement, whilst still sounding urbane and refined.

Production values are excellent in both of these recordings. The booklet notes from Hyperion are always exceptional; these are no different.

If I was asked to recommend just one of these two recordings, I would suggest that the concertos have the better music overall. However, one might also consider the Naxos price advantage, and the fact that the C major symphony is the best of the seven works by some distance.

David Barker

Previous review: Richard Kraus (Hyperion)



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