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Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737-1781)
Violin Concerto in D major [17:39]
Violin Concerto in E major [19:44]
Violin Concerto in A major [15:30]
Sinfonia in E flat major [9:26]
Ouverture No.2 in A major [11:09]
Leila Schayegh (violin)
Collegium 1704/Václav Luks
rec. 2017, St Anne Church, Prague Crossroads, Czech Republic
ACCENT ACC24336 [73:35]

From miller to fêted opera composer is something of a career path. Such was the case with Josef Mysliveček, whose 50 symphonies and nine surviving Violin Concertos attest to his versatility as a composer. Given the sophistication and lyrical grace of his writing, it’s surprising – even amid the profusion of eighteenth-century composers - that he has not enjoyed more prominence on disc.

Toward the end of the LP era Supraphon issued gatefold sets of the Violin Concertos played by the elegant Shizuka Ishikawa, accompanied by the Dvořák Chamber Orchestra under Libor Pešek. There’s no indication on this Accent release that it will become, as Ishikawa’s was, a complete set of the concertos and, given that it also includes a Sinfonia and Overture, it would take another two discs to complete the canon. And yet I hope it does. What sets this latest entrant apart from that pioneering Supraphon set is that Collegium 1704 performs on original instruments and has long been versed in eighteenth-century practice. Nicely scaled though they were, Ishikawa and her colleagues invariably looked at the composer ‘backwards’, in terms of tonal weight and articulation and other matters; most attractively, in fact, but a different approach nonetheless.

Soloist Leila Schayegh and her colleagues play with consistent lightness and aerial grace. There is crispness to the rhythms of the D major concerto, and considerable virtuosity in the solo line, much more so in fact than in Mozart’s later Violin Concertos. Mozart is known to have admired the Czech composer and if one hears intimations of the latter’s K218 in this work, it’s surely not coincidental. Mysliveček’s many years in Italy, where he fist found fame as a stage composer, certainly infuse his slow movements where Vivaldi’s impress can be felt; this is music of intense lyrical beauty, and in the finale ebullience tempered by form, with horns buttressing the line, and an active string bass line into the bargain.

There’s certainly a seductive operatic quality to the E major Concerto and this very vocalised approach suits Schayegh’s singing, taut, very silvery tone production, notably in the first two movements – the slow one is especially lovely and Italianate. The A major concerto – thus ensuring three concertos in different keys – enshrines a touch more orchestral astringency and a greater degree of sparseness in the slow movement too. These contrasts work well and the ebullient horn writing in the finale drives the soloist ever onward.

Apart from the Concertos, the Sinfonia in E flat major is making its premiere appearance on disc. It’s a spirited work, dating from around 1777-78, with confident wind writing and a brief, swinging finale. The A major Ouverture, written a little earlier, is full of panache and Václav Luks and his team certainly catch its con brio qualities. You would expect – and you would find – an idyllic Italian slow movement but not perhaps the English Country Dance feel of the finale, probably explained by the fact that the work was dedicated to the expatriate Lord Cowper, a generous benefactor living in Florence.

So, to sum up: excellent, sprightly, incisive and youthful performances balancing lyricism with excitement, added to which there’s a first class recording and fine booklet notes that tell you all you need to know.

Jonathan Woolf

 




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