Sperger symphonies performed by L’arte del mondo

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COMPOSERS: Johann Matthias Sperger
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Sperger
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 26, 21 & 34
PERFORMER: L’arte del mondo/Werner Ehrhardt
CATALOGUE NO: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875056172

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L’arte del mondo has made a name for itself championing the musical underdog, but it’s hard to imagine these symphonies will slip the leash to reassert themselves in the repertoire. That they’re well crafted is beyond dispute, but craft is pretty much all. A pupil of Albrechtsberger in Vienna, and for the greater part of his life in the courtly employ of the Grand Duke Friedrich I at Ludwigslust, Sperger left some 45 symphonies, three of which are given premiere recordings here.

The booklet notes set expectations impossibly high for No. 26 in C minor by invoking Beethoven Symphony No. 5, although Mozart’s Piano Concerto K491, a near neighbour, would be more pertinent. Sperger’s dramas are of a lesser order, and if the first movement ruffles a few feathers, the Andante arioso smoothes them down with music of anodyne politesse. Similarly the G minor Symphony never lives up to the promise of its key, a touchstone of Mozartian turmoil and profundity, though the first movement of the D major doubtless set pulses racing in 1789 Ludwigslust. Werner Ehrhardt encourages rugged honesty from his players – who muster sturm und drang fervour where appropriate – but, grounded by Sperger’s workaday talent, the disc can’t efface the musty odour of ‘worthiness’.

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Paul Riley