Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dussek Symphonies: Comfort Music

Dussek: Four Symphonies 
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra
Aapo Hakkinen, conductor

Naxos' new release presents four smphonies of Franz Xaver Dussek, who was a close friend of Mozart. After hearing the works, that fact didn't surprise me. There's a distinct similarity in sound.

Dussek was one of several talented composers living and working in Bohemia in the 1760s-1770s,, and his music is very much of its time and place. Just like the early and middle symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, Dussek's are all in clearly delineated forms. And Dussek's melodies similarly drive steadily towards their cadence points, pause briefly, and start the process over again.

That's not to say these symphonies sound trite -- far from it. Dussek captures that same spirit of excitement one hears in Mozart's works of 1770's (when the symphonies on this release were written). Orchestration is light, and the music zips along, more concerned about elegant turns of phrase than expressing deep emotion. While Dussek follows the forms of the day, he does so with imagination. There's nothing cliche about these works, just a feeling of familiarity.

Three of the symphonies follow the three-movement fast-slow-fast structure of the early classical period. They're short, to the point, and entertaining. The last work on the disc, the Sinfonia in B-flat major (altner Bb3), is more substantial. It has four movements, and sounds more like Haydn than Mozart. The themes are a little more substantial, and more fully developed.

Aapo Hakkinen and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra find just the right balance with this music. The ensemble is crisp, and plays with a lightness that keeps these works buoyant.

I found these symphonies thorough enjoyable. Comfort food isn't gourmet dining, but it makes you feel good when you eat it. Dussek isn't Mozart, but his music made me feel good when I heard it. So let's just call these symphonies comfort music -- and call this a positive review.

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