Bohumil Gregor

Pavel Vranicky: Symphonies

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This disc collects two CDs of symphonies by Czech-Viennese composer Pavel Vranicky, giving an introduction to a composer not much heard outside Czech-speaking lands. Apparently on good terms with both Haydn and Beethoven, Vranicky conducted the premieres of both The Creation and Beethoven's Symphony No. 1. The four symphonies here take Haydn as a loose example, but reflect the broadening of formal and orchestral thinking that accompanied the age of revolution -- there are some very substantial movements, including an Adagio that clocks in at over 14 minutes in the Symphony in D major, Op. 52. Each of the four symphonies has a slow introduction to its first movement, not the compact and logical curtain-raisers of Haydn or early Beethoven but a weighty, two- or three-minute unit that may be inventively joined with the main body of the movement. Even the three-movement Symphony in C minor, Op. 11, of around 1790, has these generally spacious outlines; Vranicky's expansion of symphonic form did not merely follow Beethoven's example. Booklet note writer Jaroslav Holecek makes the dubious claim that these symphonies "are all quite similar in form," but actually their diversity gives the lover of Viennese classicism plenty to chew on even if Vranicky's thematic material isn't always interesting enough to bear the weight of his large structures. The most distinctive piece here is the Symphony in D major, Op. 36 (disc 2, tracks 1-4), which has no slow movement but offers movements labeled "Russe" and "Polonese" in the second and third spots. Devotees of Russian music may enjoy trying to figure out exactly what is Russian about the second movement, a bouncing, artless Allegretto of considerable charm; it certainly doesn't sound like anything other than commonly heard music of the era. The Dvorák Chamber Orchestra under Bohumil Gregor plays with enthusiasm and polish, but the Velvet Revolution-era digital sound is shiny to the point of harshness. The problem is more acute on the first disc, which was recorded in 1990; by 1993, when the second disc was made, a lot of Western engineering had made its way to Prague.

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