Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beck: Symphonies Op.3 1,2&6 - La Stagione Frankfurt, Schneider

Franz Ignaz Beck
Symphonies Op.3 Nos. 1, 2 & 6, Overture "La mort d'Orphee"
La Stagione Frankfurt, Michael Schneider
CPO 777 034-2

Listeners who enjoy the symphonies of Franz Joseph Haydn surely will admire these works, composed by Haydn's lesser-known contemporary Franz Ignaz Beck. Like Haydn's, Beck's symphonies consistently display a clever use of harmony, rhythmic flexibility, and most importantly, a wealth of melodic imagination. However, unlike Haydn (at least as evinced by the three works offered here), Beck never draws on the past for inspiration, eschewing any reference or allusion to galant convention. Quite the opposite in fact, since Beck's fiery outer movements, played with exceptional panache by La Stagione Frankfurt, more often than not sound as if the composer is anticipating the charged romanticism of Beethoven.

The lighter inner movements also demonstrate Beck's exceptional creativity and technical skill. The broad sweeping gestures of the third-movement Minuetto of the Symphony in B-flat major are regularly (and often humorously) punctuated by various combinations of soloists from each of the orchestral sections. The delicate nobility that characterizes the pensive second-movement Andante grazioso of the Symphony in F major as well displays a familiarity if not mastery of symphonic form on par with any of Beck's contemporaries.

CPO's sound is well balanced and clearly detailed. While conductor Michael Schneider's informative and entertaining notes make a very strong case for rescuing Franz Beck from obscurity, the orchestra's expert performances under his leadership make an even stronger one. Highly recommended.

John Greene,

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