Having heard alternative versions of all these symphonies on the CPO and Supraphon labels, I find it very hard to enthuse about this disc. It was admirable of Chandos and Bamert to embark on a recording series devoted to Mozart's contemporaries, but for any such enterprise to succeed in garnering recognition for these once successful but now obscure composers, the performances have to display more engagement and empathy than those on this disc.
A comparison of Bamert's Symphony in D major, Op. 36 (written to commemorate a dynastic marriage - hence the "Russe" subtitle for the allegretto second movement) with the recording on Supraphon, Vranický - Symphonies, perfectly exemplifies what is lacking here. It opens with a richly scored and large scale introduction, comprising a three part (A-B-A) structure: in its sonorities - replete with fanfares and swirling woodwind and string scales, rhythmically underpinned by timpani and lower strings - this opening is quite unlike any other Classical period symphony I have heard. You get little sense of any of that richness and grandeur in Bamert's performance, which rushes through this imposing opening into the main body of the allegro - an allegro in which, despite ample space on the disc, he omits the exposition repeat and which he also rushes through, thereby reducing the scale and impact of this expansive, ceremonial work still further. Bamert knocks two and half minutes off Bohumil Gregor's performance of the allegretto - to be honest, neither conductor paces this movement ideally, but the Gregor makes a stronger case for his interpretation and it reflects the charm of the piece better than Bamert's impeccably neat but over-fast speeds and perfunctory phrasing.
It is a shame that Bamert's approach is so lacking in sympathy for the music, as the remaining movements prove that the London Mozart Players are capable of playing with delicacy and charm despite his interpretations. In that respect they seem more technically accomplished than the Dvorak Chamber Orchestra, but the latter are more than adequate and the slightly dry acoustic they are recorded in lends their performances an earthy quality that suits this music, with its frequent folk inflections.
There is not much to say about the "Grand Characteristic Symphony for the Peace with the French Republic", Op 31. Of a piece with umpteen commemorative battle symphonies, piano fantasias and piano `sonatas' that Late Classical composers, minor and major, churned out (cf. Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" for a relatively late example), it is a hodgepodge of anthems, marches and other characteristic tunes, loosely arranged in a four movement approximation of symphonic form. There are better examples of Wranitzky's symphonic gifts, but if you have an interest in music of that ilk, it is much better performed and recorded on CPO Paul Wranitzky: Symphonies Opp. 31 & 52 [Hybrid SACD].
The final symphony, in C minor, also appears in the Supraphon set and is performed, as you might imagine, with much more intensity than you will find here. Much of what I have written about Op.36 applies here too.
In the absence of any further Wranitzky recordings from CPO, the Supraphon set is the one to go for rather than this issue: you get four symphonies played with a commitment singularly lacking here and a set of discs that overall gives a much better impression of why Wranitzky was such a highly regarded composer by his peers. The Chandos sound quality is faithful, if a little warm and bland - something of a house trademark that I feel doesn't always suit music from the Classical period.
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