KOŽELUCH Symphonies Vol 1
Naxos’s ‘Czech Masters in Vienna’ series turns to Leopold Koželuch (1747-1818), a composer in whom some interest has been shown of late, with recordings of the piano sonatas by Kemp English (Grand Piano) and a trio of concertos by Howard Shelley (Hyperion, 1/17). Matthias Bamert also recorded three symphonies including the two Op 22 works here in 1998 (Chandos). Expect something that sounds a little like a cross between Haydn and Mozart (indeed, how could it not?) but without the tautness of argument of the former or the heart-tugging lyricism of the latter.
That’s not to damn Koželuch without faint praise, though. He was clearly a competent and imaginative composer, fully in control of structure and with a personal approach to harmony (the booklet blurb likens his harmonic twists to early Schubert but it’s not quite as individual as his two main Viennese contemporaries). He fell under the spell of Sturm und Drang too in the G minor Symphony (No 5 in Milan Poštolka’s catalogue) and in hefty parts of the C major (No 6), although without quite developing the propulsive tension of Haydn. He can spin a tune, too, in slow movements, with some piquant touches of orchestration.
But there’s a reason why we listen to Haydn and Mozart and not to Koželuch and hundreds of other Kleinmeister of the period – these symphonies mainly date from the 1780s – and that’s the matter of genius. Nevertheless, projects such as this and the ones namechecked above are worthwhile for filling in our knowledge of the milieu in which the greats worked, the music they heard and the influences they shared. There are 11 symphonies according to The New Grove and thus we can look forward to a couple more discs of the vivid, well-argued and colourful music of Leopold Koželuch.