Conductor-less period ensemble Concerto Köln's Il divino boemo is one of the group's "truffle pig" projects, bringing its considerable artistry to bear on a composer whose reputation has been less fortunate than that of his contemporaneous peers. In this case, the truffle is Josef Myslivecek, the "divine Bohemian" who was a friend to the young Wolfgang Mozart, in his time popular for his operas and oratorios, but already considered passé by his early death in 1781. This is an appropriate follow up to Concerto Köln's previous effort, the Archiv Produktion disc Mozart: Concerto Köln, which was one of the best orchestral albums of Mozart's music to appear in the "Mozart Year" of 2006.
Concerto Köln's Il divino boemo consists of six overtures/symphonies and a sinfonia concertante, the last-named being the longest work at about 15 minutes; none of the overtures/symphonies exceed 10 minutes. Myslivecek's music is galant and fits comfortably into the milieu of the mid-eighteenth century. It demonstrates concern for the use of wind instruments in the orchestra and considerable more imagination than is typical for this period, and it is stylistically quite close to Mozart, but generally does not make use of the slippery chromatics, subtle borrowings from relative keys, and other hidden devices with which Mozart distinguished himself. It is very pleasant music that would sound acceptable played by an average period band, but it comes to life when played by a group like Concerto Köln. Standout sinfonias include the C major Sinfonia, here scored for pairs of horns, flutes, oboes, and orchestra, owing to its engaging rhythmic profile and sense of snap. The E flat major Sinfonia for two horns, two oboes, and strings contains a luscious cantabile Andantino that has generous writing for the oboes and emphasizes that subtle sense of grand, ominous mystery that only eighteenth century composers seem to nail down. The Concertino in E flat is of particular interest as it is a lively, colorful work with great clarinet and horn parts; Mozart certainly could not be blamed for admiring it.
Myslivecek has been recorded with frequency but remains a boutique taste to most; perhaps Concerto Köln's eloquent advocacy can help raise his profile to some extent. Rather than being a typically so-so recording of eighteenth century music that pleases and leaves no lasting impression, Concerto Köln's Il divino boemo makes the case that Myslivecek has something to offer beyond the Classical period average.