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BASIL RAMSEY meets the music
of Johann Vanhal



Record Box

To most of us Johann Baptist Vanhal is a name in the musical history book.

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.

Vanhal Symphonies Vol. 1. Copyright (c) 1999 HNH Ltd.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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