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on 20 January 2010
Johann Baptist Vanhal was one of the more talented of those composers at work in the Vienna of Mozart; the New Grove (1980 edition) lists around 73 extant and authenticated symphonies and he appears to have been productive in this genre between the late 1760s and the mid 1780s. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries and his music a regular part of concert life; it was even played as far afield as the USA by the 1800s. He has a reputation for writing minor key symphonies in the `sturm und drang' style; only one of the works in this set is in a major key.

They are inventive works and the opening movements to three of them are fine examples of his "singing allegro" style, which eschews the `jagged' thematic writing of much contemporary `sturm und drang' music; the one example of the latter is the first work on the disc, the symphony in D minor. The opening allegro movements are relatively succinct, primarily on account of the brief development sections but his music is always inventive. The slow movements have an appealing lyricism that suggests a vocal inspiration to his melodic writing - three of the `andante' movements here are qualified by the instruction `cantabile' and one is marked `Arioso: ma non lento'; the latter movement has some appealing writing for the flute, nicely realised here in these period instrument performances.

The C major symphony at the centre of this collection is the only one in three movements and the only one to include trumpets and timpani (as you would expect in a symphony from this period); it is also the only one with a title - `Sinfonia Comista/con per la Sorta Diversa'. Its movements correspond to four emotional states: hope (I - Allegro con brio), languid sighing (II - Andante cantabile), lamentation and happiness (III - Adagio più andante; Allegro). The opening movement has a confident air that suggests the mood is one more of surety than hope but it is no less enjoyable for that. A novel touch is the slow introduction to the finale, most unusual for its time.

Concerto Koln have proved time and time again their technical proficiency and their artistry in the music of this period and these performances are as committed as one could wish for; they are certainly the best performances I have heard out of the several collections of Vanhal's symphonic music that are now available from various labels, rhythmically sharp but not afraid to let the composer's strong lyrical bent have its way too. The recording, which dates from 1996, provides the artists with crystal clear sound quality.

All in all, this is a superb disc - most definitely the one to have if you are interested in hearing this talented composer's music. Highly recommended and fully deserving of five stars.
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on 14 March 2013
An astonishing first movement sets off a fabulously energetic set of some of Vanhal's best symphonies, played by probably the top period instrument band in Germany, Concerto Koln.
This disc is the most vital performance of Vanhal's works I have in my collection, far better in interpretation and recording than any others I know of, and the equal of many of the best recordings of 18th century symphonies, Haydn's and Mozart's included. Cliche or not, this recording is truly a classic of the gramophone and perhaps the finest representation of the phenomenon of the 18th century 'Sturm and Drang' (Storm and Stress) music. This movement was centred in Austro-Hungary in Vienna and not far from that city in the town of Eisenstadt, home of Joseph Haydn. Only the great Haydn's middle period symphonies surpass Vanhal in this style of composition.
Vanhal's symphonies are by turns stormy, nervous, lyrical and tender. Vanhal's energy takes over where C P E Bach left off and gives Mozart's Don Giovanni a run for his money in drama and energy. The minor keyed symphonies, particularly the D minor, G minor and A minor are anxious, nervy pieces that are memorable enough to leave you with earworms!
Listen how the second symphony starts off slyly, gradually creeps up on you, prods you playfully in the ribs, then runs off round the park poking fun at anyone who gets in the way!
The third symphony on the disc, Sinfonia Comista, is different from the rest, a grand striding piece, swaggering with a Mozartian confidence in the first movement called 'La speranza' (Hope). There is again a tender second movement - as the excellent sleeve note says, 'Il sospirare e languire' - ' longingly, sighingly, languidly'. The final movement starts as a Haydnesque lamentation but moves quickly to 'L'allegrzza' - 'gaiety, cheerfulness'.
The comprehensive and scholarly, but by no means dull, sleeve notes by Vanhal's cataloguer Paul R Bryan describe the symphonies far better than I ever could, but I can't help but enthuse about this stimulating and uplifting cd.
I can add little to other reviewers words - I agree with them wholeheartedly that this is an essential recording of Vanhal's symphonies, full of freshness, insight and vigour. It is indeed a cornerstone recording not to be missed!
This recording exists in three releases - go for the original cd issue or the Das Alte Werk release with the tilted still lfe painting on the cover. Both have Bryan's excellent sleeve notes. If you like Mozart and Haydn, you will find this cd a great and rewarding investment.
Finally, do not attempt to drive or operate machinery if you put this on!
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on 17 January 2016
Czech born composer,Jan Vanhal made his career in Vienna,a city that musically flourished during the 2nd half of the 18th century.He was without question a highly gifted musician who excelled in the composition of the symphony and his efforts during the late 1760's and 1770's are every bit the equal of those from Haydn.Vanhal left 51 published symphonies and many others survive in manuscript.He is often referred to as one of the finest "sturm und drang" composers and this is indeed true together with the likes of CPE Bach,Franz Beck and Joseph Haydn.

The quality of Vanhal's symphonies deserve a far better discography (on period instruments) than is currently available,therefore this 1996 recording from Concerto Koln is all the more welcolme.The playing is technically excellent,the sound is superb and they observe the correct and historically accurate use of harpsichord continuo which we know was standard practice and widespread during the 1770's when the vast majority of Vanhal's symphonies were penned.

The only slight drawback for me about this recording is that the faster movements are occasionally just a little too hard throttled and driven although it can of course be argued that this intensity is essential to "sturm und drang".However if you listen to Trevor Pinnock's English Concert recording of Haydn's same period symphonies,the tempos are very lively but not pressed too hard and therefore strike a perfect blend of zest and sensibility,something that the Concerto Koln performances just miss and tend to be a shade overly dramatic.

Never the less this CD can be recommended to all lovers of 18th century orchestral music because Vanhal's compositions of the period yield to nobody and i can only hope that further period instrument groups begin to commit a much more comprehensive account of his symphonies to disc - They most certainly merit it !!!!!.
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on 30 October 2015
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