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François-Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829)
Symphonies op. IV
Symphony No.1 in D major [10.48]
Symphony No.2 in E major [9.05]
Symphony No.3 in F major [12.14]
Symphony No.4 in C major [12.03]
Symphony No.5 in E major “Pastorella” [12.08]
Symphony No.6 in D minor [14.34]
Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss / Simon Gaudenz
rec. 2018, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal.
CPO 555 263-2 [61.24]

The long-lived Gossec is one of those composers at the edge of most music lovers’ memories. Yet he was significant in the development of music and had a career, which pre-dated Mozart and Haydn, and extended into the last, extraordinary years of Beethoven and Schubert. He was an innovator, a composer who did develop with his times (compare the symphonies on this release with his late (1817) reworking of the Missa pro defunctis for the requiem of Méhul – the finest work that I have heard from his large and distinguished oeuvre.

That long list of works includes around 50 symphonies, most of which were composed before 1780, when he seemed to lose interest in the form. The opus IV symphonies, recorded here, date from around 1758. His first series comes from around 1756, three movement pieces just for strings. The Opus IV series represents an advance. Each symphony is in 4 movements, with a minuet as the third movement. Oboes and/or horns complement the instrumentation, with the exception of No.6, incidentally the only one just for strings, so possibly the earliest in composition. The minuet was first added to the symphony by Stamitz in the 1740s. The young Gossec played the violin in the Paris orchestra led by Stamitz in 1754-55. Gossec took over the leadership when Stamitz returned to Mannheim. Stamitz’s influence can be seen in other ways in the works on this disc – for e.g. the characteristic crescendos and strong dynamic contrasts.

But is the music any good? The answer is strongly in the affirmative. Certainly Gossec creates a pattern and sticks to it, following the conventions of sonata form, with a similar pattern through all four movements, culminating in an exciting presto finale. Perhaps the strongest of the symphonies is No.1, which integrates the additional instruments to produce some riveting sonorities, but despite the prevalence of major time signatures, Gossec fascinatingly explores the different moods of the different keys, most evidently in the slow movements. It is a constant delight to hear how he exploits the possibilities within such rigid formal structures.

It is difficult to see how these symphonies could be any better served than in these performances by Gaudenz and the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss. They demonstrate both precision and enthusiasm throughout. The recording is admirably clear and the supporting notes from CPO as informative as ever.
Michael Wilkinson

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