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CD Review

Johann Baptist Vanhal

Naxos 8.557483

The Symphonies, Volume 3

  • Symphony in D Major, Bryan D2
  • Symphony in C minor, Bryan c2
  • Symphony in A Flat Major, Bryan Ab1
  • Symphony in G Major, Bryan G6
Toronto Camerata/Kevin Mallon
Recorded Grace Church on-the-hill, Toronto, January 2004
Naxos 8.557483 69:19
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Summary: Delightful Classical Era Symphonies in Exceptional Performances

Composer – Born in the Bohemian village of Nechanicz, Vanhal (1739-1813) became a leading composer in Vienna and one of the most popular throughout Europe during his lifetime. As with most Classical era composers, his stock fell dramatically after his death. However, the Naxos series of Vanhal symphonies reveals an expert composer of elegance and hard-driving rhythms with a wealth of melodic invention.

The Program – All four symphonies are in four movements and sequenced as follows: Allegro, Andante or Adagio, Menuetto, and Allegro. The early Symphony in D Major begins with a short 2 minute first movement that makes amends through its driving rhythmic pulse. The second movement Andante oozes with lilting charm, the Menuetto is a compelling and regal affair, and the concluding Allegro is in perpetual motion and permeated with a moderate degree of angst.

The other symphonies on the disc largely adhere to the above description of the D Major except that the movements are longer, thematic development more pronounced, and first movements blend an enticing mix of charm and power. I think it is fair to say that every moment of music on the disc is highly rewarding and compares well to the early symphonies of Mozart and Haydn.

The Performances – I can't imagine a better set of interpretations than from the Toronto Camerata. This chamber orchestra is under contract to Naxos for the next few years, and it is a sparkling group that offers all the buoyancy and gusto that Vanhal's scores accommodate. Although using modern instruments, the Toronto Camerata's playing is certainly historically informed, lean, and excellently blends Vanhal's penchant for Viennese elegance and exciting Allegro movements.

The Soundstage – Superb on all counts. The sound is crisp, clear, and appropriately resonant.

Don's Conclusions – Strongly recommend to anyone with a warm spot for the orchestral music of the Classical era. Immediately enjoyable, Vanhal's music retains its luster after repeated hearings. It's a dandy disc that once again proves that there are treasures outside of the mainstream of classical music. There is another fine disc of Vanhal symphonies on the Chandos label, but the Naxos super-budget price can't be beat.

Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz

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