Why review a composer almost no one’s heard of? Five reasons: First and foremost for the very reason that most people don’t know Wilms well or at all, and I thought someone might just want to know something about him and his music. Second, Wilms’s music is interesting and deserves more recognition. Third, I just like the sound of the composer’s name: Johann Wilhelm Wilms. Say that aloud a few times: Wilhelm Wilms. Wilhelm Wilms. Very musical. Fourth, the small, historically informed chamber ensemble Concerto Koln has been recording for decades, playing some very good music and do so again on this disc. And fifth, I’ve always liked the sound the DG Archiv engineers produce, here reissued by Brilliant Classics.
Wilms (1772-1847) was a teacher and composer in Amsterdam around the turn of the nineteenth century, apparently a reasonably popular musician who, like so many others, fell immediately into obscurity after his death. His final two symphonies, Nos. 6 (1820) and 7 (1830) here get their première performances on CD. They are not earthshaking or groundbreaking, but they are generally pleasant to listen to, particularly in the capable hands of the Koln players.
The Sixth Symphony owes a lot to Wilms’s earlier contemporaries, Haydn and Mozart. There is, for instance, a jaunty little tune that bounces through the first movement sounding a lot like Haydn; it alternates with big, melodramatic moments reminiscent of Mozart’s most intense scenes in Don Giovanni. The combination doesn’t work very well, but it keeps you wondering where you’ve heard it all before.
By the Seventh Symphony, Wilms has left the Classical period altogether and joined the Romantic movement, the Seventh filled with allusions to Beethoven (reflections of the “Pastoral” Symphony abound) and to the spirit of European revolution (a la the “Eroica”). I enjoyed the Seventh quite a lot, and the differences a single decade had made in the composer’s output fascinated me. The Concerto Koln made a captivating discovery here and appear to be having a good time with the music.
The Brilliant Classics reissue of the Archiv studio sonics did not disappoint me, either. The sound is weighty and full and wide, making the relatively small Concerto Koln ensemble appear probably twice as big as it really is. The frequency range does not go through the floor, but it sounds well enough extended to get the job done; the inner detail is reasonably clear; the feeling of depth is not particularly necessary but adequate in any case; and the room-filling reverberation creates a realistic sense of occasion. A very nice recording.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: