Bohemian composer Florian Leopold Gassmann was one of the leading lights of Italian opera in Vienna in the generation before Mozart; Mozart's alleged adversary Antonio Salieri was one of Gassmann's pupils and assumed Gassmann's post as director of the Hofkapelle in the wake of his untimely death in a fall from a carriage at age 44 in 1774. Although he composed 33 symphonies, sacred music, secular cantatas, and chamber music of such quality that it was praised by Charles Burney, Gassmann's mark was made in opera; he composed 21 operas overall and contributed to a number of others. A selection of 10 orchestral overtures to these operas are presented on Naxos' Florian Leopold Gassmann: Opera Overtures, which also serves -- along with Mark Adamo's opera Late Victorians, released in the same month -- as the Naxos recording debut of the Washington, D.C.-based Eclipse Chamber Orchestra as led by conductor Sylvia Alimena. Alimena is a French horn player in the National Symphony Orchestra and co-founded Eclipse with 22 other members of this band in 1992; the group's only previous recording was supporting cellist Steven Honigberg on the Toch Concerto for cello and chamber orchestra for Albany in 2000.
Gassmann is a composer on whom very little energy in terms of recordings has been spent; prior to this Naxos release, a single opera and a set of string quartets are his only works to appear on disc. The operas certainly sound interesting; his biggest was L'amore artigiano (1767), not to mention such promising items as Un pazzo ne fa cento (One Madman Makes Many, 1762) and Il viaggiatore ridiculo (The Ridiculous Traveler, 1766). Gassmann wrote mostly comic operas in his last years, partly because he had a special affinity for the style and partly as a state-mandated moratorium on opera in the mid-1760s dispersed the serious singers from Vienna. These are decent overtures -- those to La contessina and Le pesatrici stand out -- though not as masterful and concise as Johann Christian Bach's opera overtures, nor as compelling and witty as those by Niccolò Piccinni. Eclipse Chamber Orchestra utilizes modern instruments with well-drilled and crisp playing, yet the recording wants for some measure of spark, being a bit distant and lacking in punch. Nevertheless, Naxos' Florian Leopold Gassmann: Opera Overtures does serve to lift the veil on this neglected figure of the eighteenth century and the disc has more than its share of attractive and entertaining music.