Johann Evangelist BRANDL (1760-1837)
Symphony Op. 25 in D Major [26.04]
Symphony Op. 12 in E Flat Major [28.03]
Kevin Griffiths (conductor)
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz
rec. Philharmonie Ludwigshafen, 2017
CPO 555 157-2 [54.12]
Johann Brandl is a contemporary of Beethoven, not well-known, and, on the evidence of these well-made but not very memorable symphonies, arguably not one to join the ranks of unfairly neglected composers. I found the music amiable enough but much less striking than that of Franz Krommer, a review of which (CPO 5551252) will appear shortly.
Nevertheless, there is much to value and enjoy here. The two symphonies are different in character.
Symphony opus 12, written relatively early in Brandl’s career, is evidently Haydnesque. There is real energy, and one could mistake many devices and phrases for Haydn. Notable is the writing for woodwind, and the elegance of some the writing for upper strings. This is more than competent music, but one senses a certain lack of adventure – an unwillingness to press the boundaries into something more distinctively personal. The subsequent movement, a rather charming Adagio, has an elegance (especially in this excellent performance) without any special individual character – and much the same might be said for the Minuet. The final movement is suitably cheerful and festive.
Symphony opus 25, Brandl’s final effort in the genre, nods towards the Romantic era, and is perhaps more muscular than No.12, but is still in many respects Haydnesque, down to the device of opening the work with an andante introduction before developing into an energetic, well-orchestrated but relatively conventional movement. The second movement, marked Andante quasi un poco allegretto has some interesting contrasts in mood and a weightiness absent from the earlier work. The third movement is a minuet marked Menuetto scherzoso, and in that marking, we find both a looking back to Haydn and a glimpse forward to Beethoven, as if confirming just where this music sits.
An oddity of this recording is that the symphonies are presented in reverse order of composition, and I can see no good reason, logically or musically, for this juxtaposition. There is development in style from the opus 12, even if less distinctive than the enthusiastic notes suggest, and those unfamiliar with Brandl’s work (most of us) would benefit from hearing the forward direction.
Despite a certain coolness in my response towards the music, I would not wish to detract from praising the enthusiasm and clarity of Kevin Griffiths’ direction (he is a conductor of whom we should hear much more), or the commitment of the orchestra. Less than great music requires advocacy beyond the routine, and certainly receives it here. On the slightly negative side, playing time is short and there was surely room to include another piece by Brandl – perhaps an extract from an opera.