Gossec: Symphonies, Op. 5/2 & 3, Op. 12/5 & 6, B86

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphonies, Op. 5/2 & 3, Op. 12/5 & 6, B86
PERFORMER: London Mozart Players/Matthias Bamert
Chandos’s series ‘Contemporaries of Mozart’ has been of great value in its exploration of the minor masters of the Classical period, especially those belonging to the strong Bohemian tradition. But this latest volume is a little disappointing. François-Joseph Gossec was an important figure in the history of French music, linking Rameau (under whom he played as a young violinist) with Berlioz (who was influenced by his grand Revolutionary ceremonial works). His symphonies, mostly written in the early part of his long career, are significant in the development of the form in France, and show some innovative instrumentation: Op. 5/2, published in the early 1760s, includes both flutes and clarinets; B86, published in 1776, has flutes, oboes, clarinets and trumpets, striking a note of festivity which anticipates Mozart’s Haffner Symphony (as does its opening flourish). Gossec’s themes, though, are mostly no more than the small talk of the time, and his treatment of them rarely rises above the routine. The London Mozart Players, under their music director Matthias Bamert, give the music a smooth, bright modern-instrument treatment which is easy on the ear, but which, combined with a recording in a resonant church, hardly evokes the crowded concert rooms of 18th-century Paris. Anthony Burton