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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime symphonies from one of England's forgotten masters, 16 Aug 2007
This review is from: Wesley: Symphonies (Audio CD)
I had never heard of Samuel Wesley before I discovered this CD - the only CD of symphonies by an Englishman in the 'Contemporaries of Mozart' series - it may well have been the case that Wesley was the only real English contemporary of Mozart (except for Linley, who did not compose any symphonies in his short life). I think it is the case that he is rather overshadowed by his illegitemate son Samuel Sebastian, and thus sadly forgotten. However, he was a very prolific composer, and his music was written at a time when fine English music was scarce, following the death of such great composers as Thomas Arne, Thomas Linley and William Boyce. In fact, it was Dr. Boyce who, in 1774, said to Wesley's father 'Sir, I hear you have got an English Mozart in your house. Young [Thomas] Linley tells me wonderful things of him'. The term 'English Mozart' is in fact far more applicable to Thomas Linley (It was a term also curiously applied to Arthur Sullivan!). Unlike Sullivan, Wesley and Linley both composed music at the same time as Mozart and in a similar (but certainly not identical) style. Wesley's symphonies of the 1780s can certainly be described as 'Mozartian', but they are highly original and inventive, exhibiting a great aptitude for tunefulness and sound orchestration. There are also some beautiful slow movements, such as the Andantino in the Symphony in D Major (1784). It is very interesting to hear English classicism, something that is quite rare, but sublime when one does discover it. The first four symphonies were composed around 1784, and the last in 1802. We can only speculate what occured in the intervening years, for the style in the 1802 Symphony in B flat major is remarkably different. Gone is the unbridled Mozartian elegance, replaced by an uncertainty of character worthy of Beethoven, which is especially evident in the latter two movements. These symphonies are supposedly influenced by Haydn, who was then composing his London symphonies. That may well be the case, but there is also an eccentric individuality evident, and plenty of counterpoint, probably due to Wesley's love of J.S. Bach. In a way, the symphony looks forward as much as it looks back - looking forward to Beethoven and back to Bach - with a Mozartian style evident, in addition. It is a truly remarkable and highly unorthodox symphony, worthy of far more attention than it recieves, as is the case with most English composers' music of this period. The same applies to Wesley's music in general; there appear to be very few recordings of this remarkable and prolific composer and I, for one, would very much like to hear more. I highly recommend this CD to all lovers of classical music, confident thay they will find it as interesting and enjoyable as I did. This is further proof that the history of great English music does not begin with Elgar and Vaughan Williams, but extends far further back into the past to a distinctive and fine musical tradition that deserves better recognition by the English people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There is more to life than just Haydn and Mozart!!, 21 July 2013
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This review is from: Wesley: Symphonies (Audio CD)
This is the third copy of this disc I have purchased - one for myself and two for friends! I should say we all enjoy Haydn's and Mozart's Symphonies and I have complete collections of both. However, we were all pleasantly surprised by Wesley's works which are both quirky and tuneful :-) He seems to have had a wonderful gift for melody as this lovely recording shows and how refreshing it is knowing there were other works of quality around between Linley and Elgar!

One other reviewer described Wesley's Symphonies here as dull and routine? Rubbish! Listening to the other recordings in this CHANDOS series, you begin to feel that the other composers of mainland Europe were just following a routine format and I found those discs rather dreary and uninteresting. Wesley's is not and is rather like as breath of fresh air compared to the rest :-) The organ obligato in the first piece came as a lovely surprise, although it is his last work of 1802 which is my favourite, full of invention and shows Wesley at his best!
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars English Musical Antiquarianism Rendered Well and with Honour, but Still Rather Dull, 11 Aug 2006
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Gerald Parker "Gerald Parker" (Rouyn-Noranda, QC., Dominion of Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wesley: Symphonies (Audio CD)
Samuel Wesley, as Britons so well know, was a member of the numerous clan of composers of Anglican curch music, Methodist and Anglican-friendly hymnody (notably Charles Wesley), and one exponent of the Arminian theology (the famous "hot-gospeller", John Wesley, who so heartlessly and ruthlessly persecuted the elderly Calvinistic hymnodist, Augustus Toplady) that has led to the rise of modern sectarianism. Samuel Wesley (not to be confused with his bastard son, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, a more important figure), is a composer of much interest for the sake of his choral and organ works, but whose symphonies, especially considering the times of their composition, are of rather tediously faceless and stylistically retrograde compositional quality. The printed notes that come with this CD make much of Wesley's use of form, but, truth be told, the music with which Wesley fills the formal outlines is of only scant interest, too formulaic and tepid to stir up much interest except among antiquarians.

Of these symphonies, the one in D major ("Sinfonia obligato" of 1781) is something of a "sinfonia concertante", including among the highlighted instruments the organ (playing genuinely solo music, not mere continuo filler), which makes that work automatically of interest to fanciers of that keyboard instrument. The only symphony that compels true musical interest, and even at that to a rather pallid degree, is the last one in B-flat major of 1802. which has a richer orchestration, somewhat greater length, and more musical heft than the slighter earlier symphonies.

The performances are about as good as such routine music can be said to merit, and the London Mozart Players really do play very well. However, it would have helped if the conductor, Matthias Bamert, had brought more legato to the phrasing of the fast movements as well as more expectably to the slower ones. The chugging and churning do not help to make a case for music that really has too little intrinsic melodic profile, which tends to wilt what meager measure there is there is of that character in Wesley's symphonies when the phrasing is obscured by so much détaché articulation. However, Bamert does not indulge in this so excessively as some other conductors among his contemporaries more brutally do, so, in the final consideration, one must lay the blame for the music's facelessless at the foot of the composer himself, not at the collective feet of the conductor and of his players.

This is a good and conscientious effort at recording by-ways of the orchestral repertoire, but the music lover is advised to become acquainted with Samuel Wesley's choral and organ works before delving into this orchestral music.
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