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Leopold KOŽELUCH (1747-1818)
Symphonies - Volume 3
Sinfonia in A “A la Française”, PosK 1:10 [17:58]
Sinfonia in C, PosK 1:9 [20:21]
Sinfonia in B flat, “L’Irrésola”, PosK 1:11 [24:57]
Sinfonia in C, PosK 1:2 [14:34]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Marek Štilec
rec. 2018, House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic
NAXOS 8.574047 [77:59]

Some estimates put the number of symphonies written during the so-called “Classical Era” well above 10,000. The 104 of Haydn are barely the tip of an iceberg; in statistical terms he was comprehensively outnumbered by, among others, John Melchior Molter (1696-1765) who wrote 170. (And lest we get to thinking that only in the 18th century did composers seem obsessed with writing symphonies, in our own time Derek Bourgeois, who died in 2017, composed 116 and Leif Segerstam’s tally has reached 337 with signs of more to come.) Of course, quantity is no indicator of quality, and in their on-going series recording the surviving symphonies of Leopold Koželuch we are discovering that, despite having written a mere 17 (as modern scholarship now believes), these make for consistently rewarding listening.

Born in Bohemia, Koželuch abandoned his baptismal names of Jan Antonín to differentiate himself from an elder cousin with whom he had studied counterpoint and vocal writing in Prague, and took the name Leopold; which in any case would have fitted in better in the Vienna to which he settled in the 1770s. Such was his reputation, particularly as a pianist (he had been a pupil of Dušek), that he was invited to succeed Mozart as Organist in Salzburg, but he chose to remain in Vienna where he opened his own publishing house and in 1792 was given a high-ranking position as a musician in the court of Emperor Franz II. His compositions favoured the piano, but he also wrote a number of stage works and, in later life, was a prolific contributor of musical settings to the Edinburgh publisher George Thomson’s volumes of Scottish, Irish and Welsh folksongs. His symphonies, on the other hand, were all written in Vienna during the 1780s, a period which, according to the excellent booklet notes authored by Allan Badley, “represent something of a flat period in the history of the symphony in Vienna”. Only one of the four symphonies recorded here was published during Koželuch’s lifetime, the C major symphony PosK 1:2 appearing in 1786 under the imprint of Parisian publisher. For those with an interest in such things, the numbers (which follow the same format as the Hoboken catalogue of Haydn’s works), was assembled in 1964 by Milan Poštolka.

Although the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice is hardly among the world’s most famous (in fact memories of the unknown East European orchestras through which Naxos managed to create the superbudget CD market in the 1980s come flooding back), this is highly distinguished playing, with an excellent recorded sound to match. Much is made in the booklet notes of the harpsichordist on this recording, Filip Dvořák, but this seems unwarranted; as David Barker commented on his review of the first volume of this Naxos set, the harpsichord does not really play a true basso continuo function but merely serves as a “rhythm instrument” adding a bit of bite to the more lively movements. Marek Štilec keeps things moving along well, balances the wind and strings nicely, and certainly brings out the particular charms of the elegant Trio of the C major PosK 1:2 third movement, and the quasi-recitative style of the first movement of the B flat.

Marc Rochester

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