Kevin Mallon / Toronto Chamber Orchestra

Wenzel Pichl: Symphonies

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These symphonies by Bohemian composer Wenzel Pichl (he translated Die Zauberflöte into Czech at one point) stand out from the common run of early Classical-era compositions and indeed from the works featured on other Naxos-label releases in this vein. In the context of the 1760s symphony, Pichl's are ambitious and imposing works. Despite the titles drawn from Greek mythology, their programmatic content ranges from moderate (the Symphony in E major, "Clio") to near zero (the Symphony in D major, "Diana" -- which, as Allan Badley points out in his informative booklet notes, lacks even such obvious devices as hunting horns). The opening movement of the Symphony in C major addressed to Calliope, the muse of heroic poetry, is weighty enough to be appropriate for its subject, but it is more interesting for the very large musical spaces its opening few minutes define. The most programmatic piece is the "Clio" symphony, which has a fugue for a slow movement and an unusual opening with pizzicato that seems to be a very early example of an attempt to evoke a delicate, vanished scene. Pichl handles a comparatively large orchestra (trumpets, oboes, bassoon, horns, and tympani all make appearances) deftly, and he has a way with a high-energy finale that will please any listener in these clean yet enthusiastic renderings by the Toronto Chamber Orchestra and its Irish-Canadian conductor, Kevin Mallon. Badley points out the stylistic affinities between Pichl and Dittersdorf, who were good friends, and it's true that Dittersdorf also (later on, interestingly) wrote a group of symphonies with antique inspiration. Pichl's rhythmically free minuets, however, could easily be mistaken for Haydn's of the same period -- and Haydn, like Dittersdorf, championed Pichl's works. Strongly recommended for devotees of Viennese classicism, and a very pleasant, variegated hour of orchestral music for anyone else.

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