To the uninitiated, the name Christian Cannabich may seem to indicate some kind of Jesus-friendly herbal substance. However, to those in the know, Cannabich was one of the guiding lights of the eighteenth century Mannheim School and a pioneer of the symphony. Cannabich composed about 80 symphonies and was a friend of Wolfgang Mozart, who openly expressed his admiration for Cannabich's skills as a conductor. Therefore, it certainly makes sense that Chandos should include a disc of five of Cannabich's symphonies in its fine, long-running series Contemporaries of Mozart.
It really shouldn't comes as a surprise that conductor Matthias Bamert is so skillful in leading period ensembles, as he has already made so many recordings of this kind apart from his work with modern orchestras. "Regular" conductors aren't supposed to be quite so good with such groups, and Bamert gets just the right results with the London Mozart Players -- these performances are rhythmically crisp, energetic, and elegant. While there are no stormy, minor-key works here in the manner of Mozart's Symphony No. 25 or Vanhal's D minor efforts, there are some rather dramatic and striking opening movements among the five symphonies here, particularly in the works in E flat major and in C major. Generally, the first movements of Cannabich's symphonies are the most interesting, the second movements are more graceful and architectural, and the third movements more dance-like. This scheme is dutifully observed for the three-movement works, the opening, un-numbered Symphony in G major is the only four-movement symphony. It feels a little more like a Haydn symphony than the others, though curiously it is the earliest of the works here, composed in 1760, just as Haydn was writing his first symphonies.
The performances are excellent and the recording no less so. Cannabich's music will probably not knock you out of the water like the better symphonies of Kraus or Vanhal. Nevertheless, it is good music, and if one has already developed a taste for eighteenth century symphonies, then Chandos' Cannabich: Symphonies will provide a pleasing addition to one's holdings in this area.