Franz Xaver Richter was a figurehead in the so-called "Mannheim school," a group of composers who worked in the court of Mannheim. Richter joined the court orchestra, lead by Johann Stamitz, as a violinist in 1747, but his main duties in Mannheim were as a composer of music for the cathedral and as singer. Richter's association with the Mannheim orchestra and his correspondingly high output in terms of symphonies and chamber music have led to the view that Richter was merely another dealer in the Mannheim brand of sausage, cranking out facile, pretty, and faceless confections in the manner of his contemporaries. If anything is likely to change that view, it should be Aapo Häkkinen and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra's superb Naxos disc Franz Xaver Richter: Six Grandes Symphonies (1744). Richter left Mannheim in 1769 largely owing to his disgust with the local style; these works were composed and published even before Richter arrived there, and firmly establishes Richter as a major mover behind the earliest development of the symphony as a form.
This group of symphonies is among the earliest published as a set and likewise contains some of the earliest symphonies designed to stand on their own legs, not sharing their symphonic designation with the more practical application of serving as opera overtures. They are rich, vital, and highly unpredictable pieces; while they do not suggest the violence of emotion associated with stürm und drang, their great variability of ideas makes clearer the significance of the role Richter may have played as teacher to two of the great Stürm und Drang composers: Franz Ignaz Beck and Joseph Martin Kraus. The playing by the Helsinki Baroque is crisp and disciplined, yet relaxed, with special attention paid to the very detailed dynamics in Richter's music.
Hopefully, the characterization of this Naxos release as "Nos. 1-6. (Set 1)" means that a follow-up volume will be forthcoming; if it is anywhere near as interesting as this first volume, it will be by its very nature self-recommending.