Frantisek Tuma, a Viennese of Czech origin, was, thanks to his status as one of the earliest composers to designate independent instrumental pieces as sinfonias, among the few composers of the middle eighteenth century to get recorded back in the days when it was all Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, and maybe Vivaldi. In later years he partly disappeared from view, perhaps because his music didn't fit into any of the city styles -- sweet Paris, muscular Mannheim, sophisticated Vienna -- on which performers have focused. It fits the mercurial temperament of Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano historical-performance ensemble, even if it's not entirely suited to his style. Tuma was a transitional composer of the best kind: he reveled in sharp clashes of style. A student of Fux, he could write Bachian counterpoint with the best of them; several of his sonata or sinfonia movements here are fugal or even strict fugues. But he uses counterpoint in a way that points forward to how Mozart and Haydn used it: as a way of generating tension through textural density. He delights in juxtaposing a fast contrapuntal movement with a limpid galant melody that the young Haydn could have written. Other movements sound a great deal like Vivaldi, who worked in Vienna toward the end of his life and whose music Tuma would certainly have known as a young man. Alessandrini's performance, full of his usual slashing strings and tense phrasing, catches these contrasts very well, and he brings out Tuma's liking for the unexpected and fantastic, somewhat akin to that of Buxtehude half a century earlier. The work that exemplifies this quality is the Partita a tre in C minor (tracks 16-20), with its startling exclamations from the low strings in the opening Adagio and the emancipation of the harpsichord continuo in the second Adagio. At the Classical end of Tuma's stylistic continuum, Alessandrini, like so many other Baroque specialists, is less sure of his footing. Consider the Sinfonia a tre in B flat major (track 12-15). After an imposing Adagio, a fugal Allegro, and an Andante that keeps up the pressure by adding complicated counterpoint to simple tunes, it seems pretty clear that the final Allegretto was intended to be a light, transcendent thing in which all the tensions vanish into air. Alessandrini can't relax enough to bring this off, and there are other "Classical" movements that don't work as well as they should. Too, with the example of the mighty Mannheim orchestra in the air by this time, to perform a piece called a sinfonia with just one instrument per part is a questionable decision. On balance, though, this is a valuable work of rediscovery by one of today's most exciting thinkers about the sound of Baroque music.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Sonata a 4 in A minor|
|Partita for chamber orchestra in D minor|
|Sinfonia a 4 in B flat major|
|Partita 3 in C minor|
|Sonata a 4 in E minor|
|Sonata a 3 in A minor|