C. F. Abel: Overtures, Sinfonias / Dombrecht, Il Fondamento

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ABEL Symphonies: in B?; in E?. Overtures: in C op 5/2 ; in G; in D; in C, op1/2 Paul Dombrecht, cond; Il Fondamento (period instruments) PASSACAILLE 903 (60: 33)

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–87) is one of those composers who had an excellent reputation during his lifetime, achieved not only as a soloist on the viola da gamba but as an impresario of a public concert series in London along with his partner Johann Christian Bach and as a composer of solid, well-crafted compositions. Among these are some 40 or 50 symphonies, most of which were written both for publication and for performance at his own concerts. This group seems to have been chosen by conductor Paul Dombrecht for the disc, I would venture to say, based upon the works that appealed to him. Although the terms “overture” and “symphony” are used, in reality there is no difference whatsoever between the six pieces; all are in three movements conforming to the popular Italian model, and all were published during Abel’s lifetime. He seems to use the same formula for each work, two fast movements flanking a slow lyrical Andante. All movements are about the same length, averaging four minutes, although four of the works have a final movement that hovers about two minutes, sort of a fast-paced dessert.

Despite all of the similarities, these symphonies are not simply formulaic. Abel knows the popularity of the various mannerisms derived from the famed Mannheim orchestra—the sighs, the layered crescendos, the tremolo strings, and the rocketing split triads—but his use of them is quite varied. In the E?-Symphony, for instance, the theme takes a bit to start moving, in effect suspending time for a few moments, like a breath. In the first C-Major work, the first movement is in a ritornello style, vigorous and decisive, with the third rounding off the work in a peasant’s dance. The third movement of the G Major seems to have been inspired by a hunt, while the B?-Symphony’s first movement is a serious statement, very Sturm und Drang , again with a quasi-hunt to keep the mood a bit lighter. The D Major could have been written by Joseph Haydn, with its monothematic development and good cohesive structure. These show both Abel’s ability to write with talent and craftsmanship, as well as his awareness of what was popular at the time.

The recording itself is a bit dated, although the performance is fine, as these things go. It was done in 1994, about the same time as the crop of other available Abel symphonies recordings, including Anthony Halstead and the Hannover Band on cpo, Adrian Shepherd’s Cantilena on Chandos, and Michael Schneider with La Stagione on cpo as well. The difference is that all of these seem to focus on the usual six-work printed collections: Schneider on the op. 10, Halstead on the op. 17, and Shepherd on the op. 7. In this, Dombrecht chooses a more eclectic sampling; only the B?-Major work has been recorded before. The performances here have a good sense of phrasing and tempos, and the playing, particularly by the strings, is fairly secure. My only peeve is that there seems to be an inordinately long space between movements and works at times, but then I may be expecting less space. The horns can sound a bit forceful at moments, and I found the overall sound a touch hollow, perhaps even somewhat muffled. If you are collecting Abel, this recording will complement the other three, and you probably should include it, as it is fully up to the standards of the other three. Personally, I would love to see a more modern recording of a group doing the entire corpus of Abel symphonies in a series.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PAS903

  • UPC: 5425004849038

  • Label: Passacaille

  • Composer: Karl Friedrich Abel

  • Conductor: Paul Dombrecht

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Il Fondamento