Myslivecek: Symphonies & Overtures (CD review)

Michi Gaigg, L’Orfeo Barockorchester. CPO 777 050-2 (2-disc set).

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Josef Myslivecek? He was a contemporary (1737-1781) of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a composer who came from Prague to Italy to Vienna to make his fortune, who wrote more symphonies and operas that practically anyone at the time, who engaged in business dealings with Mozart’s father, who people say had an influence on the younger Mozart, and who, like W.A. Mozart, died at a relatively young age, forty-three.

If you’ve never heard of him, well, neither have many people today. One listen to the first of seven symphonies on this two-disc set and you say to yourself, “Sounds a lot like Mozart or Haydn.” Then by the time you get to his third or fourth symphonies, you’re saying “Sounds a lot like Myslivecek’s first few symphonies.” The problem with the symphonies, which occupy the first disc, is that they show too little invention and seem all to sound alike.

The second disc tends to rectify this situation considerably, however, as the five overtures contained there are far more interesting, more original, more lively, more sparkling, and more glowing than the symphonies. I quite enjoyed them but couldn’t understand why CPI hadn’t put them on the first disc to get our attention. Likewise, I couldn’t understand why CPO arranged the symphonies in such an odd fashion, starting with No. 3, going to Nos. 5 and 6, then back to No. 4, 2, and finally No. 1. I thought the booklet would explain something about the arrangement being the actual sequence of their composition, but it mentioned nothing of the matter. Maybe the record producers arranged them in some kind of order of popularity. I dunno.

The most outstanding aspects of this album are the exuberant playing of L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Michi Gaigg, and the equally vivacious sound produced by the CPO engineers. The two dozen or so players in the ensemble ring out clearly and distinctly, with never an overly bright or unduly dull moment. The stereo spread is wide, the tonal balance is near perfect, and the stage dimensions show more than adequate depth. Disc two, especially, is a joy to listen to, although, as I say, the symphonies on disc one are a bit of a chore.

JJP

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't disagree more with this 'critic'. For me the first disc of the Myslivecek Symphonies is much more interesting than the Overtures on the second disc. I've been listening to classical music for over 50 years and find that I almost always tend to like what the critics don't. That's probably because I have always preferred music that was tuneful rather than difficult and 'profound'. I have always enjoyed all of Mozart's music and was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered Myslivecek. I find his melodies and harmonies just refreshing and altogether wonderful.

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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