Dussek’s Charming, Rococo Symphonies

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Franz Xaver Dussek (1731-99) was one of numerous talented composers writing in the Viennese classical style. The four symphonies featured here were supposedly composed in the 1760s and 70s, and bear a certain family resemblance to contemporaneous works by, say, Boccherini. They are cleverly scored, tuneful, and mostly brief. Three of them have three movements apiece, and last only about ten minutes. The Symphony in B flat (one of two featured here) is a larger work in four movements with a minuet. Here the influence of Haydn is quite striking. There’s no point in identifying the individual works by number as Dussek’s cataloger, Mr. Altner, has grouped them by key and then numbered them within each key-group, which is effectively useless for our purposes, so don’t worry about it.

The performances by the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra under Häkkinen are what might be termed “generic period instrument,” but of high quality. The wind players–oboes, horns, and bassoon–have an attractive timbre and maintain good intonation throughout. The strings are typically dry and thin-toned, but rhythmically precise and alert; not a problem in quick movements but less alluring in the andantes. A touch more vibrato on sustained notes probably would have helped, particularly as the modern avoidance of it (as I never tire of pointing out) is completely lacking in historical foundation, and contrary to everything we know about what players of the day actually did.

Nevertheless, the playing is very good of its type, and I offer as an example the charming Andante from the G major Symphony so that you can listen and decide for yourself (sound sample). Certainly the music is of fine enough quality that it should appeal to anyone who enjoys the products of the First Viennese School. And who doesn’t? Excellent sonics flatter the players, and the decision not to use an obtrusive harpsichord continuo was very smart. Despite my slight reservation about the strings, which comes with the territory, this is a very recommendable release.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: No reference recording

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