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Hunting Music of Old Czech Masters
Jiří DRUŽECKÝ (1745-1819)
Partita in C major "Berdlersgarn" [12:32]
Jan Nepomuk VENT (1745- 1801)
Partita in D sharp [16:33)]
Pavel VRANICKÝ (1756-1808)
Sinfonia in D "La Chasse" Op. 25 [27:54]
Collegium Musicum Pragensae (Družecký, Vent), Prague Symphony Orchestra / František Vajnar (Vranický)
rec. 1970/71, Domovina Studio, Prague (Družecký), Smetana Hall, Municipal House, Prague, (Vent, Vranický)
SUPRAPHON SU4228-2 [57:11]

When Mozart composed his musical joke, Divertimento Ein musikalischer Spaß K. 522 for two horns and strings, it may well have been a very private form of humour, and not necessarily directed at any contemporary. However, listening to this disc, especially Pavel Vranický's Sinfonia, was a very clear reminder that not all of Mozart's contemporaries operated at his exalted level. Not only that, these three composers were colleagues of Haydn, the archetypal musical prankster. When Haydn does humorous things you know he is being funny. These three sound dangerously close to being serious, merely less musically imaginative. Still, music does not have to be 'great' to be entertaining.

Jiří Družecký was first a military musician, skillful on the oboe and, oddly, as a timpanist. He worked, as the useful notes tell us, in Linz, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, as a Kapellmeister, composer and publisher, as well as a virtuoso performer. He even wrote a concerto for six timpani (which has been recorded by Naxos on 8.557610). This three-movement suite with the mysterious name of Berdlersgarn comes from the same genre as the famous 'Toy Symphony' , a Cassation probably by Leopold Mozart. An example of Harmoniemusik, it is scored for winds and multiple 'toy' instruments including birds-calls. It makes a merry racket and earns its place on this CD of Hunting Music by virtue of its imitations of the animals of the forest, not to mention the merrymaking peasants who were doubtless on hand to help the aristocrats to collect the quarry – or to poach it. The Collegium Musicum Pragensae play it with skill and evident enjoyment.

Jan Nepomuk Vent was a violinist, oboist and composer. Družecký's exact contemporary, he also wrote Harmoniemusik. He was much respected in Viennese musical life, and known to both Mozart and Beethoven. It seems none of his music was published. It was as an instrumentalist he gained status. This Partita in the unusual key of D sharp shows a man of skill if not one to stand out, especially compared to his abovementioned famous colleagues. This five-movement Partita, lasting a little over a quarter of an hour, is a more restrained work and does not resort to special effects. It is not so different from Mozart's shorter wind serenades. Once again the Collegium Musicum Pragensae play it with great skill. It is good to hear the more characterful sound of Czech wind players from this period, before orchestras became more similar in sound.

The final work is Pavel Vranický's Sinfonia La Chasse. For this fully scored orchestral piece, the Prague Symphony take over, conducted by a veteran of the Supraphon catalogue, František Vajnar. As noted above, this is rather a formulaic piece, one of the fifty-plus symphonies Vranický wrote. He was a colleague of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, for whom he was a respected fellow musician. As director of the Burgtheater orchestra from 1787 until his death, an ensemble considered one of the finest in the city, he had plenty of opportunities for symphonic performance. This would have been key to him bothering to write such works in such numbers, as Haydn proved with his Esterházy ensemble. One source has him directing Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 on one of its earliest public outings. He also was a favourite of the empress Marie Therese, who owned a large collection of his music, including numerous symphonies. This work, La Chasse, makes much of the horns but not with Haydn's wit and imagination. Nonetheless, it is good to hear a work from one of the neglected majority, and in a performance of such vitality.

It is quite an achievement to assemble a CD containing music by three virtually unheard-of composers, yet utilising analogue tapes that must have been languishing in the Supraphon archive since they were made almost half a century ago. This disc also serves to remind us that recording skill has progressed virtually not at all since then, for these are lovely sounding performances with a degree of clarity that matches anything done in the current 'digital' era. The final reminder is that Czech ensembles have always been superb players. Even if the music is less than top-class, the playing is most certainly such.

Dave Billinge



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