Kevin Mallon / Toronto Camerata

Karl von Ordonez: Symphonies

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Under normal circumstances, music composed by members of the nobility is of historical, but not great musical interest. Take for example the professionally crafted, yet emotionally distanced, instrumental music of Frederick the Great or the lusty pop songs attributed to Henry VIII. Even if you don't "have Prince Albert in a can," you might think he belongs in one once you hear his utterly unremarkable German lieder and part songs. On the other hand, some persons of noble rank belonging to lower rungs of the social ladder did create music of considerable value. Count Unico-Wilhelm van Wassenaer, who hid his work under the names of other composers, created the Concerti Armonici, which remain among the best-loved concertos belonging to the late Baroque despite that they really aren't by "Pergolesi."

Karl von Ordonez was born into the Viennese aristocracy, and if he hadn't been a musician, chances are excellent he would have vanished from history without a trace. Ordonez worked as an attorney in the Austrian lower court, but in his spare time played as a member of two local orchestras and assiduously pursued music composition, producing 73 symphonies, 27 string quartets, and numerous other works. Naxos' Karl von Ordonez: Symphonies, performed by the Toronto Camerata under Kevin Mallon, provides an excellent selection of five symphonies performed from freshly made Artaria editions. These low-key, but vibrant symphonies demonstrate a complete grasp of the resources available within the orchestras of the eighteenth century. Although comparisons are made within Allan Badley's booklet note between Ordonez's symphonic works and roughly contemporary ones by Franz Josef Haydn, if any comparison seems appropriate it is to the work of Johann Christian Bach in that Ordonez places his mastery at the service of concepts that, at least on the surface, seem relatively simple. If anything, though, the orchestral textures are even more complex than those of the youngest Bach.

Mallon and Toronto Camerata do a splendid job in all of these symphonies, as consistency of expression from one symphony to the next is key to understanding how different they are from one another -- Mallon very skillfully maintains that balance. Naxos' recording is a little on the thin side, but more than adequate, and this is an excellent addition to the Naxos Eighteenth Century Symphony series. Karl von Ordonez: Symphonies is more subtle, and not as radical or immediate as the volumes devoted to composers such as Beck and Kraus, but, just the same there isn't anything "ordinary" about Ordonez.

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