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Gossec: Grande Messe des Morts / Symphonie à 17 parties
Francois-Joseph Gossec, Diego Fasolis, Wolf-Dieter Hauschild
Gossec: Grande Messe des Morts / Symphonie 17 parties
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #2


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An Ear-Opener
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This disc is remarkable by any standards. First of all, the music. Francois-Joseph Gossec is hardly a household name, even among lovers of the Classical Era in music, and yet his symphonies established the French symphonic tradition. Along with Mehul, he was the leading composer of Revolutionary France, and his incredible Requiem, written in 1760 and published 20 years later, was aptly chosen to commemorate French citizens killed in the storming of the Bastille in 1789.Keith Anderson, Naxos' astute note writer, is unusually circumspect is saying that this great work "probably influenced" Mozart and Berlioz. I would say instead "almost certainly" did, and Cherubini in the bargain. Like the celebrated requiems of those composers, Gossec's Requiem is a Janus-like work, recalling in its grand fugues and in the French overture that introduces the Dies Irae the traditions of Baroque music. But the high drama of the Tuba Mirum, with its brass choirs that must have served as a model for Berlioz's spectacular movement, and of the Mors Stupebit are "romantic" and literary in the manner of the Sturm and Drang movement and lift us clearly out of the Baroque. So does the operatic treatment of the solo numbers in the Sequentia and Offertorium. Mozart must have had these in mind as he penned his Requiem. But even more remarkable is the spooky orchestral opening of the Offertorium. I'm convinced that Berlioz heard this in his head as he wrote what Schumann considered the most effective section of his Requiem. And listen closely to the stately Introduzione of Gossec's Requiem. In its plangent, open-air writing for the woodwinds and strings, it's not only a model for sections of Berlioz's Requiem, it is an entirely new sound, different from any that a German or Italian composer of the day would coax from an orchestra, and can be seen as establishing a uniquely French orchestral pallet.Gossec's "Symphonie a 17 parties" is not in the same league with his great Requiem but is nonetheless an interesting musical document and a thoroughly enjoyable piece. In that some of the string writing in the first movement recalls Mehul, it can be asked who influenced whom, especially since Gossec's work was sketched in the 1790s, only to be completed in 1809, around the time of Mehul's first two symphonies. But clearly Gossec's piece has the grandeur that marks the work of both Revolutionary composers. The first movement and Menuetto are especially memorable, and while the overly chatty last movement lets the piece down somewhat, this is still a very attractive symphony.The playing by the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana is admirable throughout the Symphonie and the Requiem. The Orchestra is obviously a small, lean body of players, which is all to the good. In their capable hands and that of director Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, the orchestral music has the virtues we ascribe to period-instrument performances: a properly Classical balance between strings and winds, brass and percussion that aren't immersed in an orchestral glue but cut thrillingly through the fabric of the orchestra. The chorus is equally fine, fired by the drama and pathos of Gossec's writing. And the soloists, especially the two men, are superb. Just listen to the thrilling and beautiful singing in the Offertorium. Excellent work as well by the sound engineers.All in all, this is one of Naxos' best choral recordings. I'd say "landmark" is not too strong a word for it."