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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Symphony No. 6 in G minor (1854) [33.03]
Grande Symphony No. 2, Op.781 [40.35]
SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern/Grzegorz Nowak
rec. 2004/5
SWR MUSIC SWR19419CD [73:41]

Czerny maintains a toehold in the recorded repertoire, yet remains best known as a pupil of Beethoven (he played at the premiere of both First and Fifth Concertos). To many he remains known for his piano exercises (satirised in Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals) and his work as a teacher. Yet he was an immensely prolific composer. Opus numbers reach 861, and he composed many more works than that. The era of recording has meant that works other than those for piano – such as his chamber music, and, less frequently, his symphonies - occasionally appear.

This SWR CD is a reissue. It was first released on the Hänssler Classic label (CD93.169) in 2006, but seems to have disappeared from the catalogue several years ago. The reissue is welcome not only for the music’s rarity but for the pleasure it represents.

That Czerny was a highly accomplished composer – and orchestrator - cannot be doubted, and the music here belies the sober and mechanical impression many might assume if their sole acquaintance were the Czerny exercise. The symphonies reveal gifts of construction, memorable melody and wit. Their musical pedigree is evident. Some moments are positively Beethovenian, though other passages, notably in the No. 6 (a world première recording) recall Mendelssohn. Both Symphonies are performed by Nowak and his orchestra with buoyant rhythms – the initial Allegro of No. 6 is truly con brio as instructed. The performance benefits from a fairly forward woodwind sound and the strings maintain a Beethovenian weight of tone. Perhaps the second movement, an andante, is a little too much Beethoven pastiche for originality and the musical substance could be stronger, but this is offset by a witty and feather-light scherzo – touches of the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For the Grande Symphony, there is a rival recording, conducted by Nikos Athinäos and coupled with the Op. 153 Piano Concerto for Four Hands – it dates from 1996, and was reissued by Christophorus (CHE 0140-2). Although it is cheaper than the Nowak, the latter is preferable not only in terms of recording quality but also performance. Nowak is noticeably swifter and more buoyant in the outer movements, without loss of detail or phrasing, though his scherzo is more measured. The second movement with lovely woodwinds over a treading bass is delightful and expansive. It is a work of substance and worth exploring.

In short, then, this is a very enjoyable experience for anyone who loves the music of the first half of the nineteenth century and will give immense pleasure, especially in performances as idiomatic, clear and committed as these.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Ralph Moore


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