WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: NDR Radio PO Hann0over/Johannes Goritzki
CATALOGUE NO: 999 738-2
The Anglo-French composer Georges Onslow, son of an English nobleman MP, studied with Dussek, Cramer and Reicha. He spent most of his life in the Auvergne and Paris, composing copious chamber music (his quartets were praised by Schumann) but also operas and four symphonies. He was an exact contemporary of Ries and Spohr, and like them an important figure in a ‘late Classical’, post-Beethoven, pre-Schumann generation all but lost to critical view after the middle of the 19th century. French contemporaries even referred to him as ‘the French Beethoven’. His quartets and quintets have been enjoying a modest revival on CD; now CPO presents two of the symphonies (and I expect the others are in the pipeline).
Onslow himself was sufficiently self-critical to feel he lacked distinctive invention, but he’s something more than just a first-rate craftsman and a master contrapuntist. Classical in form, incipiently Romantic in feeling, his works are spirited and expressive, well worth the occasional hearing alongside Schubert or Mendelssohn. The symphonies, if not masterpieces, are important works. Symphony No. 2 (1832), dedicated to the London Philharmonic Society, is a taut, Beethovenian, D-minorish affair; No. 4 (1846) for the Lower Rhine Music Festival is more original, with a persistent vein of stormy chromaticism that in the finale issues in a kind of nature-poem, ‘Le coup du vent’. Goritzki directs vigorous, highly committed performances. Calum MacDonald