This is part of a now long-running series devoted, as the title
indicates, to the music of Baroque Bohemia and indeed ‘beyond’.
It has reached volume six with this latest release. Whether
Baroque or, as here, pre- or indeed solidly Classical, this
series is revealing just how full of depth is the wellspring
of the Bohemian musical diaspora. If the names Schimpke, Gassmann
and Jírovec mean little or nothing to you, then you are certainly
not alone. But each composer offers a revealing sidelight on
both his heritage and his milieu, as reflected in these three
works. All are orchestral.
Christoph Schimpke, for example, offers a Symphony in F major
(or, more properly, Sinfonia). Not much appears to be known
about the composer, who died in 1789. He was born in Tetschen
(modern day Decín) on the Elbe, near Dresden. His early years
seems shrouded in mystery, but for the last two decades of his
life he was employed by the Prince Bishop of Breslau, primarily
a bassoonist in the elite band that Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf
had built up.
The Sinfonia is a spacious, well laid out work, full of maestoso
energy and control. The Czech Chamber Philharmonic under their
director Petr Chromcák take the slow movement at a good walking
pace, vesting it with genial charm and a strongly etched bass
line. It’s a modern instrument band, and very responsive to
the prevailing musical ethos of Schimpke’s time. The bassoon,
the composer’s own instrument, wiggles away delightfully in
the third movement enjoying piquant little concertante moments.
In the finale general high spirits are unleashed, though the
level of invention is not wholly distinctive. Nevertheless,
it’s an engaging, thoroughly proficient work made droller by
virtue of that semi-independent, concertante bassoon line.
Leopold Florian Gassmann was born in 1729 in Most, not far from
Decín. A singer, fiddle player and harpist he gravitated to
Venice, and then to Vienna where he succeeded Gluck as ballet
composer in the city. A famous pupil of his in Vienna
was Salieri. Gassmann was renowned as an opera composer but
he was also a prolific symphonist. His four-movement Symphony
in C minor reveals a consistently elevated musical mind at work.
Thematic material is varied, lyricism is refined, and each movement
serves its schematic function with great assurance. Orchestration
is deft and the Poco andante, which is played as such
as well, is enlivening. This is all-round a most effective work.
The last of the trio is Vojtech Jírovec, also known as Adalbert
Gyrowetz. Born in the town of Ceské Budejovice - where Budvar
beer comes from – he was a notable linguist who worked in Prague
for a number of years before moving, like Gassmann, to Vienna.
There one of his symphonies was performed in a series arranged
by Mozart. He met Haydn in London, before returning to Vienna
where he befriended Beethoven – indeed he was one of the pallbearers
at Beethoven’s funeral. His Symphony has a concertante role
for the oboe. The galant and fluent music is nevertheless
full of unexpected harmonic twists and turns. It also reveals
the influence of Haydn. The droll bird calls, chirping high
and repeated low down, are a delicious touch in the third movement
Minuet and the Adagio is no less pleasing in its lilting lyricism.
These three works, all by lesser known émigré composers, all
offer up delightful surprises and noteworthy features. They’re
played with grace and warmth. And whether Baroque or, indeed,
Beyond they are well worth a listen.