This disc, although not so marked on the cover, is the fourth in a series licensed from a Czech source by the Alto label of Long Island City, NY. Without that information it would be a bit hard to understand the title Baroque Bohemia & Beyond -- none of the music would qualify as Baroque, and all of it is Bohemian. The only "name" composer here, and the only one whose works on the disc have been recorded before, is Josef Myslivecek, whose name so flummoxed his Italian employers that they just called him "il divino Boemo." He is represented by a pair of three-movement symphonies from the year 1763, each with a dense, compact opening movement (the one heard on the very first track on the disc is especially accomplished), a graceful Andantino, and a rustic final presto. They're a lot of fun, and they give an idea of why the young Mozart, on hearing Myslivecek's music, not only praised it but recommended it to his sister. The rest of the disc offers world recording premieres. All the pieces sound slightly later than Myslivecek's symphonies, although no dates are given -- it would have been nice to know the dates, or at least that there was no way to establish the dates (the booklet is quite engaging, however, containing such details as Myslivecek's loss of his nose during botched surgery -- shades of Gogol! -- intended to treat a sexually transmitted disease). They're a mixed bag, without anything that will occasion a rewriting of the history books, but with plenty of pleasant touches -- the English horn writing and varied texture of Jan Adam Gallina's Sinfonia in E flat major, the plain rhythms belied by concertante writing in Josef Fiala's Sinfonia in F major (he was another composer Mozart liked), the very Haydn-like Sturm und Drang minuet of Josef Bárta's Sinfonia in F minor. The Jan Vent of the Sinfonia in E flat major is better known as Wendt; he arranged the operas of Mozart and others for wind band. The Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, a modern-instrument group, approaches the music with relevant vigor; the chief complaint for many listeners will be the undue prominence given to the harpsichord of conductor/keyboardist Vojtech Spurny -- the structures of most of these pieces, with the possible exception of the Myslivecek sinfonias, seem to dictate a more discreet role for the keyboard. The Czech studio sound is nothing to take to the stereo shop -- claustrophobic and brittle.
Baroque Bohemia & Beyond: Myslivecek, Gallina, Vent, Barta, Fiala Review
by James Manheim