Wagenseil Symphonies Vol 2 / Johannes Goritzki, Stuttgart Co
WAGENSEIL Symphonies: in g, WV 418; in B?, WV 438; in C, WV 351; in G, WV 413; in B?, WV 441 • Michi Gaigg, cond; L’Orfeo Baroque O (period instruments) • cpo 999 450 (62:19)
WAGENSEIL Symphonies: in C, WV 361; in F, WV 398; in D, WV 374; in A, WV 432; in E, WV 393; in A, WV 421 • Johannes Goritzki, cond; Stuttgart CO • cpo 777 112 (54:24)
Who was the most popular symphonist of the 1760s? Franz Josef Haydn, of course. Manuscripts and published editions of his early symphonies have been found throughout Western and Central Europe, from Italy to Sweden, Britain to Russia, in monasteries, court libraries, and private collections. But who was the most popular symphonist of the 1750s? Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715–1777) lays claim to that honor, with over 300 copies of 57 symphonic works disseminated across Europe. It was just Wagenseil’s bad luck, and that of many of his contemporaries, that his fame faded rapidly after his death. Most people equate quality with the final flowering of a form, and have little regard for the ingenuity with which it is treated in an earlier age.
Yet Wagenseil was no lightweight. Fux praised him greatly at the outset of his career, while esteemed critics such as Burney and Schubart did so in later years. He became a renowned harpsichord composer and performer, a greatly loved teacher whose pupils included several leading figures in the following generation, and a disciple of Baroque giants such as Handel even as his own music followed changing public tastes. To Maria Theresa he was the favorite court composer who would improvise fugues on demand, and who was paid wages for his lessons to the royal family considerably in excess of his yearly salary. His symphonies and operas were performed regularly at Esterházy during Haydn’s time there as Kapellmeister—but then his works circulated widely to general appreciation. A copy of his Lessons for Harpsichord even turned up in Thomas Jefferson’s personally written 1783 catalog of his musical manuscripts.
As a symphonist, Wagenseil followed the old three-movement Italian model, only substituting fast sonata-form finales in most cases for a dance movement. Over time, his slow movements and finales became notably more substantial than those of his predecessors. The Andante from the Symphony in B? Major, WV 441, is an excellent example of his art, from the descending open chords of its introduction to the breadth of its thematic material, and the richness of its subsequent development. His opening movements and finales tended to build upon short-breathed phrases that avoided the clichéd through some distinctive feature: the irregular phrase lengths and sudden leaps that lead off the Symphony in E Major, WV 393, furnish one example. Another, at the beginning of the finale to the Symphony in G Minor, WV 418, features propulsive rhythms surging back and forth under a descending g?-D?-d-G figure: heady crack-of-doom stuff, contradicted by the galant material that immediately follows in the interests of balance, but all the more impressive for what Wagenseil achieves during their combined development. None of these works take longer than a quarter of an hour to perform, and a couple of the earliest are in reality five-minute overtures, but there isn’t a single one that lacks memorability.
Of the two performing ensembles thus far engaged for this series, I prefer the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. While enjoying the clarity and timbral diversity L’Orfeo achieves, their wiry string tone and occasionally faulty intonation are drawbacks. The Stuttgart musicians possess a darker, less varied tone, and under Goritzki’s direction are more flexible in their rhythms and phrasing within the bounds of currently acceptable historical practice. They’re recorded somewhat distantly, however, losing some of their instrumental color in the process, while L’Orfeo benefits from close miking. The liner notes to the second volume are good, but the essay accompanying the first volume is longer, more detailed, and goes some way to establishing at least a sense of the environment in which Wagenseil operated.
In short, both volumes can be recommended, though I suggest listening to Gaigg/L’Orfeo before buying to see if your reaction to their sound differs significantly from mine. The music, in any case, is excellent throughout. Two thumbs up to cpo—and here’s to expectations of a third volume, soon.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Catalog Number: 777112-2
Composer: Georg Christoph Wagenseil
Conductor: Johannes Goritzki
Orchestra/Ensemble: Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra