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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly performed symphonies by one of Mozart and Haydn's most talented contemporaries, 20 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Vanhal: Symphonies (Audio CD)
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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