To most of us Johann Baptist Vanhal is a name in the musical history
Hitherto, chances of hearing his music, either on record or in the concert
hall, were minimal. So we start with fresh ears. Even a first run through
makes no special impression, probably because Vanhal is steeped in 18th
century musical mannerisms. But thereafter we dig a little deeper and the
music reveals original touches which are essentially personal and thereby
from the mind of a composer who thinks beyond clichés.
There's an illuminating introduction to Vanhal by Paul Bryan which places
him in a chronological context. First and foremost, Vanhal was contemporary
with Haydn and Mozart, fortunately showing no signs of musical intimidation.
On the contrary, Vanhal had a penchant for unusual effects, and to a certain
extent experimented with form.
This readiness to step away from the beaten path occurs in the first
work on the disc, Sinfonia in A, with a solo cello doubled by the first
violins making the slow movement almost transparent from the richness given
to the melodic line.(click for music)
Similarly, a solo oboe accompanied by pizzicato strings carries the slow
movement of the Sinfonia in D by embellishing the line with delicious effect.(click for music) The fast movements seem less
inclined to the unusual, and yet two or three hearings to bring the parameters
of a movement into focus then release the elusive subtleties for us to savour.
(click for music)
Vanhal left over 1300 works of all types. Maybe the best of this (very
large) bunch will reach our ears sometime in the new millennium.
Copyright © Basil Ramsey,
September 15th 1999
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