Giovanni Battista Sammartini, who has as much of a claim as anyone else to be the creator of the symphony, lived for a long time and wrote at least 70 symphonies and probably more. The cataloging, publication, and even attribution of these works, which mostly do not survive in manuscript copies, is still in its infancy, and the music heard on this disc has never even been published. Recordings devoted to the later part of Sammartini's career have been rare. For all these reasons this disc would be welcome news for lovers of eighteenth century music even if it were indifferently done, and it's done considerably better than that. Sammartini, unlike the young Haydn and Mozart, did not incorporate the operatic innovations of the time into his symphonic language. The music doesn't differ much in its general outlines from the earlier Sammartini symphonies that have been recorded from time to time; the five pieces are each in three compact movements, with the finale often in triple meter, and the orchestra is the early Mozart-Haydn ensemble of strings, oboes, and horns. An included quintet for three violins, viola, and bass, with the curious tempo designation of Allegrino on the middle movement, doesn't differ sharply from the symphonies; the notion of a distinct sphere of chamber music was still in the future. But there is evidence of a mature Sammartini style in these pieces, evidence of a subtler kind. Each movement is a miniature masterpiece of detail, showing just how much can be done with a few chords and some basic melodic patterns. The music isn't so much humorous in Haydn's way as lively and elegant; Sammartini has a way of destabilizing a harmonic resting place, an unexpected yet logical moment, and there isn't a melodic turn or ornament without some kind of structural significance. Sammartini was certainly well known across Europe -- these pieces are performed from copies held in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris -- and the question of his influence on members of the following generation deserves more exploration. It certainly seems possible that Mozart knew these works, for they resemble in spirit the strangely economical small works of his own last years. The Accademia d'Arcadia under Alessandra Rossi Lürig may be a bit on the sweet-toned side for some listeners, but the group is in tune with the spirit of Sammartini's music. The metallic sound generated by the St. Vincent church in the Lombard town of Eupilio doesn't help the overall effect, but the Dutch label Brilliant, known for its by-the-kilo classical releases, deserves kudos for this adventurous and nicely specific single-disc release, which anyone from commuter to specialist can enjoy.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
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