Beck: Symphony in B flat; Symphony in D; Symphony in G; Symphony in D, Op. 10/2; Symphony in E, Op. 13/1

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COMPOSERS: Beck
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony in B flat; Symphony in D; Symphony in G; Symphony in D, Op. 10/2; Symphony in E, Op. 13/1
PERFORMER: Northern CO/Nicholas Ward
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553790
There is a case to be made for resuscitating the music of Franz Beck (1734-1809), a second-generation member of the famous orchestral school of Mannheim, founded by Johann Stamitz (1717-57). Beck was almost exactly Haydn’s contemporary but unlike Haydn, who never went far abroad until 1791, Beck went first to Italy and then settled in France, where his symphonies were first published. He ended his career as maître de chapelle of the theatre orchestra in Bordeaux.

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Some of Beck’s symphonies are indeed visionary, and he specialised in the violent emotions of the Sturm und Drang, in which Haydn also excelled (Symphonies Nos 44, 45, 52) – the characteristics of which are minor keys, tremolo strings, huge leaps in the melodic material and so forth. Many of these Sturm und Drang traits penetrated Mozart’s music too.

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The trouble with this CD lies not in the performance or the recording, which are exemplary, but in the choice of the music. You will search in vain for a violent or visionary Beck among these five symphonies, of which only the last movement of the fifth chosen suggests anything out of the ordinary. (You could put together a recording of five mediocre symphonies by Haydn or Mozart, too.) But all is not lost: hasten to purchase another recording of three Beck symphonies with La Stagione Frankfurt (on CPO 999 390-2) which was a runner-up in BBC Music Magazine’s Christmas choice and which contains brilliantly original music, very well performed. HC Robbins Landon