Joseph Eybler: Symphonies 1 & 2; Overture

Michael Hofstetter

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Joseph Eybler: Symphonies 1 & 2; Overture Review

by James Manheim

Joseph Eybler was one of the most promising young composers in Vienna when Mozart died in 1791, and it was to him that Constanze Mozart turned for a completion of the already-commissioned Requiem mass. Eybler, whom the often acerbic Mozart had praised in strong terms, had the wit to realize the difficulty of the task, resulting in the path-of-least-resistance completion by Süssmayr that has come down to the present day. The two symphonies on this disc date from the late 1780s. Their model is not so much Mozart but Haydn, with their slow introductions and their striving toward highly original minuets (the Symphony No. 2 has two of them). Eybler does favor Mozart's dual-theme sonata forms rather than Haydn's intensive reworkings of his opening material, however. The most interesting feature of Eybler's writing is his skillful use of the growing symphony orchestra, with a full complement of winds, and this feature is admirably well brought out by the Chamber Orchestra of Geneva under Michael Hofstetter. Credit also goes to CPO's engineers, working in a wood-paneled music room in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The flutes and bassoons busily operating in the background can be clearly heard even as the predominant strings are not shortchanged, and the overall sound is pleasantly warm. The basic material of Eybler's symphonies is less interesting; it's hard to remember a single theme after listening to the disc. The Andante slow movement of the Symphony No. 1 takes too long to get to its central bassoon solo, and in general the movement balance in unconvincing D minor is missing in action after the first movement of the second symphony. The most interesting work is the Overture that concludes the disc (note to program sequencers: normally an overture works well at the beginning, not the end), which has a Beethovenian kind of forward momentum. One learns nothing about this work from the skimpy notes, however. This well-executed disc will be of the most interest to those immersed in the world of Viennese Classicism.

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