Richard Egarr / Academy of Ancient Music

Birth of the Symphony: Handel to Haydn

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Prior to the emergence of the Classical symphony in Vienna, the court at Mannheim produced a large number of three-movement orchestral pieces called symphonies, reasonably well represented here with works by Franz Xaver Richter and Johann Stamitz. Later the importance of Italian models was recognized: Haydn's teacher, Porpora, was Italian, and Mozart's earliest model, Johann Christian Bach, worked in Britain and also followed Italian styles. Thus the model for the symphony's development presented here is a rather outmoded one; the early three-movement Italian operatic sinfonia, the key ancestor, is presented only in a rather unusual example by Handel, and neither J.C. nor C.P.E. Bach, both important models for Haydn and Mozart (whose Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, K. 16, heard here, was closely modeled -- impressively so for an eight-year-old -- on J.C. Bach's music) is present. This said, Birth of the Symphony offers a collection of attractive orchestral works of the 18th century, many presented for the first time in historical performances. The works by Richter and Stamitz are especially interesting, for the Mannheim symphonists are not much performed these days. They include big orchestral sequence crescendos such as the so-called Mannheim rocket, referred to by the creators of the contemporary instrumental group Mannheim Steamroller, and it is instructive to hear them tamed a bit by the keyboard continuo of Academy of Ancient Music director Richard Egarr. Despite several changes in leadership, the Academy retains a distinctive silvery sound that is a matter of taste but is nevertheless admirable in its consistency. Nothing in the packaging or notes actually claims that the pieces here evolved from one another, and Birth of the Symphony is at the very least a pleasant recording of some rarely heard pieces.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Saul
1 3:56
2 2:07
3 2:43
4 2:03
Grande simphonie No. 7 in C major
5 6:45
6 3:37
7 3:03
Sinfonia a 4 in D major
8 4:21
9 4:45
10 2:52
Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, K 16
11 4:38
12 3:26
13 1:44
Symphony No. 49 in F minor "La passione"
14 9:15
15 6:40
16 5:49
17 3:02
blue highlight denotes track pick