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Frantisek Xaver DUSSEK (1731 - 1799): "Four Symphonies"

Helsinki Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Aapo Häkkinen

rec: Oct 1 - 3, 2010, Espoo, Sellosali
Naxos - 8.572683 (© 2012) (64'24")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Symphony in G (Altner G4); Symphony in A (Altner A3); Symphony in B flat (Altner Bb2); Symphony in B flat (Altner Bb3)

Franz (or Frantisek) Xaver Dussek was one of the many composers and performing musicians who originated from the fertile ground of Bohemia and travelled through Europe in search of employment. They could be found in all major musical centres, such as Vienna, Paris, Mannheim, London and various cities in Italy as well as lesser prominent spots, such as The Hague.

Franz Xaver should not be confused with his better-known namesake Jan Ladislav, who was a major force in the classical era. In comparison Franz Xaver has a more modest place in the history books, although he certainly was respected in his time. He was born the son of a peasant and, thanks to his patron, was able to attend the Jesuit Gymnasium at Hradec Králové. He received his first formal musical education in Prague from Franz Habermann and then went to Vienna to study with Wagenseil. Probably in 1770 he settled in Prague, where he was active as a keyboard player and teacher; one of his best-known pupils was Leopold Kozeluch.

In 1776 he married one of his pupils, Josepha Hambacher, who made a career as a soprano. The Dusseks now and then visited Salzburg and became good friends with Mozart. His recitatives and arias Ah, lo previdi (KV 272) and Bella mia fiamma, addio (KV 528) were written for Mrs Dussek. The latter is dated October 1787, and was written in Prague, where Mozart stayed at the Dusseks' house and completed his Don Giovanni. It is probably at their invitation that he had visited Prague in January of that year in order to attend the performances of his Le nozze di Figaro.

Dussek's oeuvre is not very large, in comparison with that of some of his contemporaries, but still of a considerable size. They include 37 symphonies most of which seem to have been written in the 1760s. It is mostly impossible, though, to put a date on them. They have the various structures which were common at the time: symphonies in three movements (G4, Bb2), sometimes with a slow introduction to the first movement (A3), or in four, including a menuet and trio (Bb3). Dussek's treatment of the thematic material points to the future, and his frequent use of wind instruments in his symphonies can also be considered a modern trait.

The symphonies on this disc include plenty of good melodies which catch the ear. In the opening allegro from the Symphony in G (G4) the oboes and the violin play a prominent role, and are given the opportunity to come forward from the ensemble. The andante from the Symphony in B flat (Bb2) is built around a dialogue between the strings and the two oboes. The closing allegro assai includes a passage with tremolo effects in the strings. The allegro from the Symphony in A (A3) which follows the introductory largo maestoso has some striking dissonants. Another ear-catching movement is the andante from the Symphony in B flat (Bb3), not only because of its beautiful melodic material but also the nice display of various dynamic levels. It is the longest work on this disc and the only one with horn parts.

The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra delivers enthusiastic and energetic performances which are polished but not smooth; they are full of contrasts and the idiosyncracies of the various symphonies are fully explored. Tempi and dynamics are well-judged. The bass is probably a little underexposed, as the presence of the fortepiano is not that clear. Its use as a basso continuo instrument in these symphonies is probably debatable anyway.

On balance it doesn't matter. This is a delightful disc which shows that Dussek's music deserves to be performed.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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