Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Abel: Six Symphonies, Opus 7 - Cantilena, Adrian Shepherd

Carl Friedrich Abel
Six Symphonies, Opus 7
Cantilena, Adrian Shepherd
Chandos CHAN 8648

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-87) was probably a pupil ofJ.S. Bach in Leipzig and was a close friend and colleague of J.C. Bach in London; he was the last great exponent in his day of the bass viol and a court chamber musician, and with IC. Bach organized the famous Bach-Abel concerts which did much to promote new music, notably Haydn's, in London. He must have met the boy Mozart in London, in 1764-5--these Op. 7 Symphonies were not published until 1767, but Mozart had access to them and copied one out (his copy was mistakenly presumed to be of a work of his own, and called No. 3 in the old complete edition and K18 in the Ki5chel catalogue). Mozart's copy included clarinets rather than the oboes in the printed version; probably Abel's original had clarinets but for publication he preferred the more conventional oboes.

The symphonies recorded here are pleasant, undemanding pieces, modest in size (they average ten minutes apiece), comparable in style with Mozart's early, London symphonies. The first one begins a little ponderously, with harmony seemingly reluctant to change; I thought I might be in for a long hour's listening. But it has a quietly witty second subject, and each of the works has something novel or charming to offer. In No. 2 there is a richly worked triple-time first movement and an Andante of unusual sweetness, in plain harmony: its chromaticisms have almost the manner of a Victorian hymn, very original for its day. No. 3 starts with a vigorously argued Allegro and continues with an Andante of quiet beauty and refinement, based on a melody built on a repeated rhythmic figure. The first movement of No. 4 is a brilliant piece with plenty of momentum and the finale is an expansive minuet; in No. 5, after a jolly first movement with high horn parts, there is an Andantino with an attractive expressive cantilena. No. 6, the one Mozart copied, is the longest, a well worked-out piece, including a C minor middle movement and a 'hunting' finale with some athletic bassoon passages.

Adrian Shepherd's Cantilena ensemble may not be supremely polished and their rhythms are apt to be spongy; but they have a good command of the style and give a decent account of the music.

S.S., Gramophone Magazine

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