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João Domingos BOMTEMPO (1775 - 1842)
Symphony no.1 in Eb major, op. 11
Symphony no.2 in D major

Hanover Philharmonic/César Viana
Recorded October 4th - 8th 1999, NDR Studios, Hanover

Everything I had read about Bomtempo - never having heard a note of his music before this disc - identified him dismissively as what used to be called an 'IHF', i.e. an Interesting Historical Figure, whose music was, by implication, not worth wasting time on. Wrong! This is imaginative, witty, eventful music, clearly influenced by the symphonies of Haydn, and quite worthy to be compared with them. Bomtempo, however, has a musical personality all of his own, and both symphonies are packed with delightful and individual touches of melody, harmony and orchestration.

Symphony No. 1 has a short slow introduction with several chromatic surprises, before launching into a pleasantly energetic Allegro. There is more string 'passage-work' than you would find in Haydn or Mozart, but it is relieved by some attractive solo moments for flute, oboe and clarinet. The Minuet and Trio that follows (reversing the conventional order of the middle movements in a classical symphony) turns out to be a good deal more interesting than its galumphing opening might suggest. The musette-like Trio is particularly charming, with melodic arabesques for flute, clarinet and bassoon against staccato strings. After its rather formal opening, the Andante sostenuto has a distinctly Schubertian feel to it, and uses contrasts of wind/strings, major/minor most effectively, though the peremptory loud ending is a pity! But the memory of this is soon swept away by the good-humoured finale. The dates of the two works are not specified, but it is tantalising to hear the faint reminiscences of the finale of Beethoven's Eroica here, and the two works of course have the same key. I did not enjoy Symphony No. 2 as much as the first, mainly because it seemed a more ambitious piece, but also less convincing. In particular, its proportions seem awry, with an excessively lengthy first movement. Even here, though, there is plenty of interest, and the Allegretto is a thoroughly original creation.

The symphonies are given fine performances; the Hanover Philharmonic play stylishly, albeit on modern instruments, and César Viana conducts with sympathetic understanding. The excellent recording allows the detail to shine through, yet has a warm, natural quality. A valuable and highly enjoyable issue.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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