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Franz Ignaz Beck: 9 Symphonies / Schneider, La Stagione Frankfurt

Beck / La Stagione Frankfurt / Schneider
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777880   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews


BECK 6 Symphonies, op. 3 . Symphony in D, op. 4/1. Symphony in B?, op. 4/2. Symphony in F, op. 4/3. La mort d’Orphée : Overture. L’isle déserte : Overture Michael Schneider, cond; La Stagione Frankfurt CPO 777 Read more 880–2 (3 CDs: 172:54)


CPO has decided to release as one set its three albums of Franz Ignaz Beck’s symphonies, recorded by Michael Schneider and La Stagione Frankfurt. It’s a long-running interest of Schneider, with the first album consisting of half his opus 3 works (CPO 999 390–2) reviewed in these pages in 1996, and the second half (CPO 777 034–2) in 2004. Our box adds the first half of his op. 4 (CPO 777 032–2), released in 2006, but never reviewed in Fanfare . Presumably it’s meant to whet interest for a future disc containing the rest of op. 4.


Several musicologists in the early 20th century saw Beck as a forgotten giant. He was lauded for originality, theatrical intensity, imaginative chromatic harmonic progressions, increasingly independent part-writing and thematic development, dual thematic (as opposed to monothematic) opening movements, and the use of wind instruments in his symphonies. Some of this is reflected by David Kirk in his review of CPO’s second release ( Fanfare 28:3), where he states Beck’s symphonies were “moving in the direction Beethoven later developed,” while Michael Carter ( Fanfare 28:2) quoted an unattributed statement of a musicologist that Beck was “a Romantic born a generation too early.”


On the other hand, Daniel Heartz, in his Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720-1780 , merely compares Beck to Simon Leduc to show how much more modern the latter was in using chromaticism structurally. David Johnson ( Fanfare 20:1) liked the theatricality of the two minor-key works on the first release, then wrote, “I hear the bold harmonic progressions … but the rhythms strike me as rigid and there is no duality of themes at all….” Jerry Dubins, reviewing Mallon/Toronto CO in several of the op. 3 symphonies ( Fanfare 34:2; Naxos 8.570799), in turn writes, “Beck wears thin after a while….The works are well crafted and clever in invention, but they strike me as short on imagination and originality.” He then rightly points out that the so-called wind innovations attributed to Beck’s op. 3 were far exceeded in variety of instrumentation and timbre in the same year of their publication by Haydn.


My own estimation is closer to Johnson and Dubins, if less dismissive. Beck strikes me as a talented Mannheimer who retained some conservative Baroque features (such as independent part-writing and idiosyncratic harmonic progressions) from his older colleagues there, notably Franz Xaver Richter. These were subsequently viewed in the 20th century as innovative rather than what they were: part of a tradition Beck had learned in his youth that was gradually coming back into style. Opening movements with heavily contrasted pairs of themes were again pursued by Mannheimers before Beck used them in his 1762 op. 3 works: Johann Stamitz favored them in his last, highly regarded set of published symphonies, written in the early 1750s, as did Ignaz Holzbauer, later in that decade. Settling in Bordeaux brought Beck into contact with a set of Gallic influences, among them Mondonville and Gossec, the former notable for the length and intricacy of development in his works, and the latter for the irregular phrasing, harmonic piquancy, and imaginative use of instrumental color in his own symphonies. Put in perspective among his contemporaries, I think Beck is not the proto-Beethoven that Schneider extols to the skies in his liner notes, but a sophisticated and entertaining composer of the 1760s, mixing older and newer, Austrian and French influences; and that is enough.


Beck’s op. 4 collection of symphonies was published in Paris in 1766. No others were published by him after that point, though it is possible more existed, as much of Beck’s later music is thought lost. The Sturm und Drang that briefly interested symphonists in the 1760s, including Beck in his previous symphonic set, is completely missing from these pieces. Again, the influences are from all over the place, but I was particularly struck by his use of paired oboes in thirds as a galant 6/8 interruption (literally—it wrenches the movement out of any relevant harmonic progression) in the first movement of the D-Major Symphony, and again in the central section of the F-Major Symphony’s Minuet, that most strikingly recall the opéra-ballets of Rameau and Campra. Beck has a sense of humor, like his almost exact contemporary Haydn, and enjoys tossing the occasional stylistic surprise at his listeners. His French audiences, with their long cultural memories, would have caught on at once.


Schneider leads disciplined, spirited readings of all this music. The 16 string players of La Stagione Frankfurt perform without vibrato, but achieve a tone that is silky, if not varied in color, and less raw than in their release of Gaspard Fritz’s symphonies (CPO 777 696–2). He phrases carefully, and builds these works up from their strongly defined rhythms, which helps buoy his soloists along—oddly enough, reminding me in this respect of Pierre Monteux. In short, both for the complete op. 3 and first half of op. 4, recommended.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

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Franz Ignaz Beck (1734-1809) was certainly one of the greatest of the Mannheim symphonists. His late symphonies, Opp. 3 and 4, compare favorably with Haydn’s middle-period works, with which they are roughly contemporary. Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon spoke very positively of Beck, particularly in connection with Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” period. Hearing Beck’s Symphony in G minor from the Op. 3 set, it’s easy to understand what got Robbins Landon so excited. This is really intense stuff, easily on a par with Haydn’s and Mozart’s most turbulent minor key creations.

CPO released three discs of Beck symphonies, here conveniently boxed up and reissued as a set. The works are basically scored for strings and horns, the latter sometimes given exciting solos that pop out of the texture at surprising moments. The performances by La Stagione Franfurt, on period instruments, have all of the necessary bite and drama that the music requires. I still balk at the notion that period harpsichordists poked at those repeated-note bass lines in soft passages the way that modern players do, but otherwise Michael Schneider and his band seem well inside the idiom, and music itself is wonderful. So, for that matter, are the sonics.

If you’re a fan of good, classical period repertoire and want to venture outside the standard Haydn and Mozart fare, then you should consider investigating Beck, either the individual discs or this boxed set.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

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Works on This Recording

1.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 4: no 1 in D major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1766; France 
Venue:  Sendesaal, German Radio, Cologne 
Length: 19 Minutes 12 Secs. 
2.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 4: no 2 in B flat major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1766; France 
Venue:  Sendesaal, German Radio, Cologne 
Length: 22 Minutes 22 Secs. 
3.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 4: no 3 in F major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1766; France 
Venue:  Sendesaal, German Radio, Cologne 
Length: 18 Minutes 36 Secs. 
4.
L'isle déserte: Overture by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: 1779; France 
Venue:  Sendesaal, German Radio, Cologne 
Length: 5 Minutes 27 Secs. 
5.
La mort d'Orphée: Overture by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: 1784; France 
6.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 3: no 6 in D major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1762 
7.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 3: no 2 in B flat major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1762 
8.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 3: no 1 in F major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1762 
9.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 3: no 3 in G minor by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1762 
Date of Recording: 1995 
Venue:  German Radio Recording Studio, Cologne 
Length: 17 Minutes 58 Secs. 
10.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 3: no 5 in D minor by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1762 
Date of Recording: 1995 
Venue:  German Radio Recording Studio, Cologne 
Length: 17 Minutes 57 Secs. 
11.
Sinfonie (6), Op. 3: no 4 in E flat major by Franz Ignaz Beck
Conductor:  Michael Schneider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Stagione
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1762 
Date of Recording: 1995 
Venue:  German Radio Recording Studio, Cologne 
Length: 18 Minutes 5 Secs. 

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