Chances are excellent that, unless you remember the sixteenth volume of the old brown-backed set of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians -- "Riegel to Schusterfleck" -- then you have never encountered composer Henri-Joseph Rigel. The scion of a musical family that also spelled its name "Riegel," Rigel studied with Niccolò Jommelli and Franz Xaver Richter before arriving in Paris in 1767; although his musical language remained essentially Italo-German, Rigel is mainly considered a French composer as the bulk of his work and sphere of influence was centered in Paris. He was a member of the Concert Spirituel, a reasonably prolific and successful composer of opera and oratorio (his La Sortie d'Egypte has been revived in modern times in Europe), and served on the founding faculty of the Paris Conservatoire, beginning in 1795. Rigel's relatively early death at age 58 in the throes of a chaotic, post-revolutionary republic has hindered his posthumous reputation, but if anything is likely to bring him back it is Concerto Köln's excellent disc for Berlin Classics, Henri-Joseph Rigel: Symphonies. If you are interested in the uniquely eighteenth century genre of Sturm und Dräng you'll find plenty of that here. In Benoit Dratwicki's excellent, if confusingly organized booklet notes, he states that "Rigel's works are transitional between Sturm und Dräng style of Haydn and Mozart and the pre-Beethovenian style of Méhul."A respectful counter suggestion is that Rigel's tendency toward Sturm und Dräng was probably the heritage of his teacher Richter and thus he is more of a contemporary to Haydn and more so still to Franz Ignaz Beck, who likewise made his way to Paris by way of Mannheim.
The comparison to Mozart is somewhat baffling; his stormy, intense, and personal idiom, with its nervous, chattering strings; abrupt modulations; and driving, scattered figures punctuated by strokes of timpani doesn't seem much in line with the Viennese wunderkind or the description advanced by Robert Sondheimer, writing in 1956, of a "sweet grace and loveliness with every tone of touching affection symbolizing feminine beauty." That perhaps points up the importance of hearing an expert band playing the music versus seeing it on the printed page, and Concerto Köln performs this music with the same crispness and dedication that it brought to its Deutsche Grammophon disc Mozart in 2006; if anything, this is slightly better than the Mozart disc was. The creative energy, individuality, and level of imagination employed by Rigel in his symphonies is enough to recommend the disc on its own; to have such obscure repertoire additionally so well played and recorded is a bonus that is nearly too much to expect. Rigel is indeed a find, and if you have an interest in and appreciation for the symphonic music of the eighteenth century, then Berlin Classics' Henri-Joseph Rigel: Symphonies will well afford that same sense of discovery.