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Carles BAGUER (1768 - 1808): Symphonies

Josep Borras, Carles Cristobal, bassoona
Acadèmia 1750/Orquestra Històrica del Festival de Torroella
Dir: Farran James

rec: Nov 7 - 8, 2008 (live), Barcelona, Auditori (Sala 2)
Columna Música - 1CM0201 (© 2009) (58'59")

Concerto for 2 bassoons and orchestra in Fa; Symphony in c Symphony No 2 in c minor; Symphony No 15 in E flat; Symphony No 16 in G

The classical style is usually associated with the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. They largely overshadow their lesser famous contemporaries, and it is only fairly recently that other composers from the late 18th century is given attention. But still the focus is mostly on Germany and Austria, whereas classical composers from France, Italy or England are mostly ignored. That is even more the case with composers from Spain. I don't think many music lovers could mention any Spanish composer who has written symphonies and other orchestral music in the classical style.

Carles Baguer is one of a number of Spanish composers who had adopted the classical style and composed symphonies and overtures. I don't know how often their music is played today in Spain, outside the country most of them aren't even known by name. Carles Baguer was from Catalonia, and born in Barcelona. He received his first musical education from his uncle Francesc Mariner, who was organist at Barcelona Cathedral, and whom he succeeded in 1786. About 150 compositions by Baguer have been preserved, and about half of them are for organ. He was especially admired for his improvisational skills, and during Christmastide many people came to listen to his improvisations on traditional songs.

Baguer has written at least 20 symphonies, part of which have been handed down in the form of keyboard transcriptions. It seems that his symphonies were greatly appreciated as many copies have been found in many various archives, and no less than 14 symphonies have been transcribed for keyboard. There is much insecurity, though, exactly for which occasions he has written them, or under what circumstances they have been performed. The fact that a number of symphonies have been preserved in church archives suggests they were played during liturgy. That could also explain that they are rather short, in comparison to the symphonies by the great composers of the classical period, like Haydn. The Symphony No 2 in c minor is the longest on the programme, and even this lasts less than 15 minutes. The others are about 11 minutes long.

The name Haydn isn't mentioned here coincidentally. It is evident from Baguer's symphonies that he admired Haydn and was heavily influenced by him. The Symphony in C has even been attributed to Haydn - something it shared with many other symphonies of the period, bearing witness to Haydn's cult status as composer of symphonies. An interesting addition to this programme of symphonies is the Concerto for two bassoons and orchestra in F. There are few concertos for two bassoons from the 18th century, and in the liner notes Josep Maria Vilar reminds us of the important role of the dulcian (bajón) in the liturgical practice in Spain during the renaissance and baroque periods. As a result there was no shortage of bassoon players, and therefore Baguer's writing of a concerto for two bassoons isn't that surprising. The solo parts are not very virtuosic, though, and the character of the work puts it into the category of the sinfonia concertante, as it has only two movements.

Baguer's symphonies fall into two categories. Some are written in one fast movement, with a slow introduction. It is likely these were used as overtures to operas or oratorios or other liturgical works. Others, including the four symphonies performed here, are in four movements. The first and last are in fast motion, the second is in a slow tempo and the third is a menuet with a trio. I was especially struck by the slow movements which are quite expressive. The thematic material of the andante of the Symphony No 2 in c minor is very nice, the adagio from the Symhony in C is also quite beautiful. The adagio of the Symphony No 16 in G includes an episode for solo violin. The closing movements are vivid and sparkling.

All in all I have really enjoyed this recording and I am curious to hear more from Baguer, in particular his vocal works and his organ pieces. The performances by the Acadèmia 1750 were recorded during live performances, and as a result there are some background noises like coughing. The applause is faded away fairly quickly, but the sound engineer should have done so less abruptly. In general the performances are good, although now and then the intonation is less than perfect (for instance in the opening presto of the Symphony in C). It is only in the opening movement of the Symphony No 2 that the playing is a bit feeble and bland, otherwise the orchestra delivers spirited performances. Josep Borràs and Carles Cristòbal give fine accounts of their solo parts in the concerto.

The booklet contains a lenghty essay - also in English translation - about Baguer and his time in general and the compositions of the programme in particular.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Acadèmia 1750

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