François-Joseph Gossec: Symphonies Oeuvre XII (Nos. 1, 3, 5). Johann Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto. Guy van Waas (clarinet), Les Agrémens, Guy Van Waas. Ricercar-Outhère RIC 218 (2002), barcode 5400439002180
Recorded November 2002 at the Château de Versailles, in cooperation with Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and Centre de Chant Choral of Namur
Reissued in “The Parisian Symphony / La Symphonie parisienne” (7 CD compendium) with works of Grétry (from RIC 234, RIC 242), Gossec (from RIC 263, 242), Kraus (from RIC 277), Pieltain, Gresnick (from Ric 242), Lebrun (from RIC 309), Haydn (from RIC 277, RIC 309), and new recordings of Haydn, Beethoven, Salieri, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Gluck, Lemoyne, Johann Christian Bach, Méhul, Hérold, Spontini. Les Agrémens, Guy Van Waas. Ricercar RIC 357 (2014), barcode 5400439003576
Sheer, unadulterated joy from Gossec
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 30 September 2011
The disc’s title lets you think that Guy Van Waas and his period-insturment ensemble “Les Agrémens” recorded here the complete opus 12 collection, but not so: only three (No. 1, 3 and 5) out of six. Anyway, I’ve now heard almost as much as there is to hear of Gossec’s symphonies on CD, which amounts to a little over 20 out of an output of circa 70, so I think I can claim that I’m beginning to have an overall view of the composer’s symphonic style (see my Gossec composer page for links to the reviews). It is sheer, unadulterated joy.
No “Sturm und Drang” drama, angles and emotional turbulence with Gossec, no more in 1809 (when he composed his last Symphony “in 17 parts”) as in 1756 (the year he published his six Symphonies “with multiple instruments” opus 3 – and that was at least a year before Haydn’s own first symphony). But no superficial, precious and well-manicured “galant” music for the aristocratic salon, either. These three from the composer’s opus 12 collection, from 1769, are very typical. There is an enthusiastic and sweeping merriment to the outer movements (the character indication of the finale of No.3 says it all, in fact: “Très gay” – old French spelling), and a dance-like elegance in the slow movements – the one of No. 1 sounding almost like a Sarabande, a kind of pre-Debussy “Danseuses de Delphes”. The closest you get from the “Sturm and Drang” moods is in the slow introduction of No. 5 and in parts of its slow movement.
The track listing of the booklet has in itself drawn smiles from my stern face. It reproduces the tempo and character indications exactly as published in the score, and it is irresistible. Since English translations aren’t given, I must translate them here in full, for everyman’s enjoyment:
Now THAT’S being as precise as possibly could before the invention of the metronome.
What the disc’s title doesn’t tell you either is that the disc is complemented by a Clarinet concerto. Hearing it, I thought Gossec wasn’t as inspired in the concerto form as he was in his symphonies – there is more of that superficial and ultimately rather hollow “galantry” in its light-hearted moods – until I realized that the Concerto wasn’t by Gossec at all, but by Johann Stamitz: that’s the Stamitz father (1717-1757), who conducted the orchestra of the wealthy fermier général (tax collector) and patron of the arts Le Riche de La Pouplinière in which the young Gossec got his first appointment as violinist, before succeeding Stamitz as its music director. The Concerto is certainly significant in Stamitz’ output, and possibly in the history of the instrument, in that it is the only one he wrote for the newly invented clarinet in b-flat, and one of the first concertos ever written for the instrument (Molter appears to have crossed the finishing – or should I say starting line, first). Still, too bad Ricercar and conductor Guy van Waas didn’t chose to record another one of Gossec’s opus 12 symphonies instead. Van Waas, who in the Stamitz plays the clarinet himself, appears to be a multi-skilled musician, he was originally a clarinet player with the Orchestra of the Brussels Opera and of the Belgian Radio orchestra, but he is also an organist.
I am usually a diehard fan of period-instrument ensembles in the pre-19th century repertoire (although NOT in Mozart’s piano concertos), but here, I’m not so sure. One of the symphonies recorded by van Waas (No. 5) was also selected by Mathias Bamert and his modern-instrument London Mozart Players for Chandos 9661, in their Gossec instalment from the “Contemporaries of Mozart” series. While there is more transparency of sound and presence with Van Waas, his period-instrument “Les Agrémens” orchestra also has slightly acid sonorities compared to the greater bloom and richer colors of Bamert. The tempo choices are very similar (and I don’t hear any difference between Bamert’s and van Waas’ “presto con furie” and a plain “Allegro”, making me wonder if they aren’t both taking it too slow), but Bamert’s finale has slightly more drive.
Nonetheless, in No. 1 and 3 van Waas has no competition (Stefan Sanderling and Orchestre de Bretagne recorded No. 2 for ASV in volume 2 of ther 2-CD survey of the symphonies Gossec, and No. 4 is still unrecorded, to the best of my knowledge) which, added to his concentration on the same opus number rather than a random selection of symphonies like his competitors (to the ones already mentioned, add Concerto Köln), makes it an indispensable purchase for any amateur of Gossec.
The recording was made in October 2002 under the auspices of the French Centre de Musique Baroque of Versailles, and Van Waas’/Ricercare’s companion CD with the (complete) three symphonies op. 8 was published in 2008, RIC 263. At this rate of three symphonies every six years, it’ll take them 120 years to record Gossec’s complete output. Could they speed up things a bit, please?