This coupling of two of Franz Krommer's symphonies was one of the earliest releases in the Chandos "Contemporaries of Mozart" series; it could just as well have been issued in a "Contemporaries of Beethoven" edition, as Krommer was born before and died after that composer; indeed, Krommer's earliest symphonies (according to the liner notes) were published seven years after Mozart's death. Truth to tell, any comparison to either of those composers doesn't cast Krommer's attractive but slight works in a particularly flattering light.
The starting points for these works are the late symphonies of Mozart and perhaps those of Haydn too, the latter reflected in some of the folkish turns to Krommer's writing in the later movements of each work. That Krommer knew his Mozart is in no doubt from the imposing opening bars of the Op.40 work, which are clearly influenced by the overture to `Don Giovanni', but what follows is at best a rather stilted sonata form `allegro vivace' with little sense of forward impetus. I think that is partly due to the technically correct but ultimately rather uninvolved performances from Bamert and the London Mozart Players yet Krommer's undistinguished and not very memorable material must also carry its fair share of the blame. The later symphony has an opening `allegro vivace' too, one that is more concisely argued and more satisfying from that point of view (the lead into that `allegro' from the introductory `largo' is very neatly achieved and displays some of the imagination I have heard in the composer's very attractive clarinet concertos) but again, I have to say I didn't find the material itself particularly remarkable.
Perhaps Krommer was daunted by the increasing importance of the symphony as genre or perhaps he felt constrained by sonata form itself, unless he had a solo instrument to flesh it out with decoration? Be that as it may, once you are past those two opening movements, this pair of symphonies becomes a considerably more attractive proposition.
His struggles with the opening movements notwithstanding, he certainly seemed to have a flair for finales - perhaps because he didn't take on the challenge of a final movement like that of Mozart's `Jupiter', let alone the gauntlet thrown down by Beethoven in the finales to his first eight symphonies*. Both are effective and lively conclusions to the works they finish, the Op.40 finale having an especially engaging dancing quality to its primary material and the Op 102 finale making at least one concession to the changing times with the introduction of trombones to Krommer's orchestral complement. The internal movements display a similar charm - a charm in the trio of the earlier symphony's minuet that is very hard to resist, I think; certainly it always brings a smile to my face. The `adagio' of that same work also makes effective use of contrasting episodes in the major and minor (the movement is in A), with those minor episodes being sonorously scored.
I've had this disc for some while now and it is one of the few from this series that I return to with any frequency; as I noted before, Bamert's conception of these works seems to me to lack engagement and that can lead to passages of suavity that verges on blandness. Neither of the opening allegros in these performances suggest the qualifying `vivace' marking in the scores and I can't help but feel that sharper edged performances might have made more of their sometimes meagre inspiration; the same goes for the remaining movements of each work, though Krommer's stronger inspiration carries the music further in those movements and Bamert's approach to music of this period does appear better suited to its lighter aspects. The sound too is satisfactory but also lends a veneer of smoothness to performances that are already a little over-refined.
Recordings of Krommer's symphonies are few and far between so if you are curious about these works, these seem to be pretty much your only option. In all honesty - and mainly on account of the performances, though they are some of the better ones I've heard from this series - I can only award the disc three stars.
* the Op.40 symphony was published in 1803, while the Op.102 work is undated but thought to hail from the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century, when only Beethoven's final symphony was still to appear.