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The real discovery here is the 22-minute symphony by Franz Beck from the early 1760s which sounds as though it should have been written 35 years later; a real gem for strings and horns only. The last movement is just the sort of music that would have appealed to Berlioz.

Ian Page is right to place it close to Gluck’s music from the same years – the moment when the restraint of the Baroque finally gave way and the Romantic era beckoned – and follow it with the two fine arias from Tomasso Traetta’s Sofonisba, first heard in Mannheim in 1762. The arias are all first recordings. The spooky excerpt from Niccolo Jommelli’s Fetonte, written for Ludwigsburg, shows how cleverly Italian composers were adapting to the weightier and doom-filled taste of Germany pioneered by Gluck.

There is a slight feeling that the whole collection works better as a concert, with a good pre-concert talk, rather than as a disc to pull out of a collection for a particular work. That said, The Mozartists (a truly awful orchestra name that belies its quality) play with energy and tight ensemble, well led by Matthew Truscott, and take full advantage of the generous acoustic in St John’s Smith Square.

Ian Page catches the tempestuous side of the music with gusto, though the opening adagio of Haydn’s La Passione symphony is a touch ponderous on repeated listening. The Swiss soprano Chiara Skerath is splendidly dramatic and elegantly hysterical (a truly 18th-century concept) without straying from period norms. The distance from Traetta to full blown Bellini is nicely judged. Nothing is held back and the music is well chosen to show that composers at the start of the classical movement were pushing hard against the edges of their aristocratic patrons’ comfort zones.

Simon Mundy Read the full review on Agora Classica


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