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Leopold KOŽELUCH (1747-1818) Symphonies I 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
rec. 26-29 February 2016, The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic NAXOS 8.573627 [76:55]
Leopold Koželuch was one a group of 18th century Bohemian composers who settled in the great cultural centre of Vienna; his music is the focus of this particular instalment of a discrete series issued by Naxos featuring compositions by such musicians. This release selects four of Koželuch’s eleven symphonies, which all appear to have been written in the ten years or so from 1779 – according to Grove, although the liner notes do not provide much historical or biographical information about any of the symphonies specifically. In style they tend to combine something of the Italianate elegance of Mozart’s earlier symphonies written around a decade or more earlier with the terseness and seriousness of purpose of Haydn’s middle period symphonies, though not reaching the same level of inspiration of either composer.
Nevertheless, these are well crafted works which deserve a hearing, even if only to set the achievements of Koželuch’s more illustrious contemporaries in context. All the symphonies here receive performances by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice that are spirited and vigorous, but also attain an elegance that would not shame such a similar ensemble as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields for example, whose accounts of Mozart’s and Haydn’s remain amongst the best and most distinctive.
Within the prevailing geniality of his performances, Marek Štilec also contrives to bring out the nuances and character of each symphony recorded. He captures the sparkle of the Symphony in A major, with the tinkling harpsichord in the background and the lustrous horns imparting a radiant glow to the texture, even if the rather courtly and relaxed finale is too stately for its Prestissimo marking. The Scherzo’s Trio section does, however, embody a suitably Haydnesque wit.
The portentous Adagio opening to the C major Symphony veers off in a probing direction that looks as far ahead as the similar harmonic patterns of the slow introduction to Beethoven’s Second Symphony, and the volatile contrast in dynamics throughout the work in this performance evokes well its Sturm und Drang influence. After another searching, Haydnesque slow opening to the D major Symphony, Štilec is attentive to the vigorous compound rhythms of the Allegro first movement, to the furtive tread of the Poco adagio that follows, and also to the Vivace direction for the Minuet which here eschews a more complaisant and easygoing character that such a dance might all too easily invite otherwise.
The prospect of a symphony in G minor might well lead to an expectation of Sturm und Drang drama and a comparison with such works by Mozart in this same favourite key of his. In reality the work fails to live up to any such promise and encompasses very little of the same tragic quality as Mozart’s 25th, for example, not least as it does not remain in the minor key for long, and the finale explodes into the major mode rather soon. But it would be wrong to read any such pretensions in the music which Koželuch never intended, and again Štilec is sensitive to its comparatively more approachable and amenable character. The slow movement is winningly treated as like a lyrical opera aria in form, and although much of the accompaniment is a predictable throbbing texture, the orchestra make as much out of it as they can.
Altogether this is an enjoyable disc which does more than justice to some music that is charming, if hardly breaking new ground, and it is hoped that conductor and ensemble will continue with a complete survey of Koželuch’s symphonies.