Great to see rarely-heard and neglected music of this sort making its way to SACD release. I at first was sure I had never before heard of Wranitzky, but a little reading online soon cleared up the fact that I already had a Supraphon CD of music by this composer in my collection, only they spelled the Czech way as Vranicky. There is also a previous recording of the Grande Sinfonie on Chandos. So that’s why this disc didn’t proclaim any recording premieres.
Wranitzky/Vranicky was a Bohemian composer born the same year as Mozart and who lived until 1808 as one of the most important composers in Vienna. He was friends with Mozart and the two were familiar with each other’s music. He was also a member of the same Freemasons lodge to which Mozart belonged. He wrote over 20 stage works, the best-known at the time being his singspiel Oberon. On the strength of these two symphonies, Wranitzky created some fine examples of the 18th century symphonic form, with good melodies and rich part writing, but he was no Mozart.
Most of Wranitzky’s music was composed either on commission from or in some way connected with the reigning Hapsburg royalty who ruled Austria. Emperor Francis II was seeing the Austrian and Prussian armies sustaining heavy casualties in battles against the troops of the new French republic, and he has to sign some peace treaties with the French. The Grande Sinfonie commemorates the event with four programmatic sections disguised as the movements of a normal symphony. The first describes the French Revolution and has marches for the English, Austrians and Prussians. The second movement is a representation of the execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Concord, followed by a funeral march for him. The short third movement harks back to a piece of battle music from the Baroque or Renaissance. It opens and closes with a loud cannon shot on the tympani – a much more dramatic wake up than Haydn’s “Surprise,” and a welcome audiophile attraction to this quirky work. The actions of the various armies are given musical life via themes from their patriotic music. The last movement deals with the peace negotiations and the shouts for joy of all concerned when peace is finally restored.
The D Major symphony is a more standard abstract work with a number of cheerful melodies and relaxed development of them. It reminded me of some of the later Haydn symphonies. Its third movement is especially festive in nature. The original published work indicated that it could be performed by amateur chamber orchestras of only strings, horns and oboes, but this performance utilizes the full NDR symphony and abounds in colorful orchestrations. The surround sound option realizes a very natural impression of being in a concert hall, with the SACD stereo mix sounding rather flat in comparison.
– John Sunier