He Wrote Fine Symphonies Too
M. C. Passarella | Lawrenceville, GA | 12/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Walloon composer Francois-Joseph Gossec is mostly known, if he's known to music lovers at all, for his liturgical music and dance music deriving from his operas and other entertainments. Lately, to our benefit, recording companies have been rediscovering his fifty-some symphonies. The present recording, one in a series featuring the works of Mozart's contemporaries, offers five, two from Gossec's Opus 12 (1769), two from Opus 5 (1761/2), and odd symphony out, a ceremonial little work in D Major from the 1770s, including (unusually for Gossec) trumpets. It sounds like a latter-day example of the Italian overture, in the manner of Mozart's Symphony No. 32.
The Opus 5 works show the influence of one of Gossec's mentors, the Mannheim composer Johann Stamitz, having four movements and parts for clarinets, both hallmarks of Stamitz symphonies. The Opus 12 symphonies, in three movements, are about as long as the Opus 5 symphonies, having more substantial first and second movements. This is certainly true of Opus 12 No. 6, whose first movement has no fewer than four distinct melodies, the first of which is subjected to a lengthy development, at least by the standards of the 1760s. This is music of suavity and grace, and if it lacks the daring of Haydn's symphonies of the same period, it has a more lyrically expressive slow movement than we hear in many symphonies of the day. The same comment could be made for Opus 12 No. 5, which has an unusual, elegiac slow introduction marked "Lamentabile."
Of the Opus 5 symphonies included herein, No. 3, subtitled "Pastorale," is the more memorable, with a dashing, hunt-themed last movement where the horns are given a chance to shine.
Gossec's symphonies are music of refinement, with good, solid themes and working out of same, as well as a distinctive use of the woodwinds for added color. Bamert and his fine orchestra treat this music with all the respect it deserves. On the other hand, Les Agremens, who play on original instruments, bring a rather different sound picture to Gossec (I've sampled their recording on Ricercar of the Opus 8 symphonies), and I must note that some of the earthiness of their performances would not be amiss here, especially in Opus 5 No. 3. But certainly the London Mozart Players' very civilized approach is valid as well, and one can only admire the sheen and polish of their playing.
The Chandos engineers provide a recording that has a realistic balance of airiness, detail, and impact. All in all, this is an excellent Gossec sampler that I can recommend with confidence."