Toronto Chamber Orchestra, Kevin Mallon
If, like me, you had not previously heard of Wenzel Pichl, and when you did you'd have thought it was something to put on a sandwich with cheese or ham, then I guess you might find it useful to put Pichl in some sort of historical musical context to ascertain why he might have been as one of the foremost European composers of his time as the sleeve notes claim and work out why he is not so well known just now.
Wenzel Pichl (1741-1805) does not appear in any of the 3 reference books I normally reach for [Oxford Companion to Music, Gramophone Good CD Guide 2001, NPR Listener's Encyclopedia] on such occasions but Wikipedia tells me he was born in Bohemia and moved to Vienna but returned to Prague in 1769 while Mozart, whose life he straddled, was still in his early teens.
It is clear from the feel of the 4 symphonies presented on this disc that he is very much of this era giving notice of the close of the Classical period and heralding the arrival of the Romantics. While there is still a feel of the very formal structure one finds in Handel and Bach, there is evidence of a more emotional ebb and flow to the work, also exhibited by Mozart and to a lesser extend by Haydn, but leading inevitably to the later great sweeping dramatic works of Beethoven and Rossini.
Pichl's sound is clean and intricate, but perhaps lacks Mozart's gift for the inclusion of great tunes and stirring choruses which give the modern listener hooks on which to hang his musical identity. So this could be the reason for his relative obscurity in the present day.
These recordings are well produced and highly listenable but whether they gain any popularity probably depends on whether Naxos can come up with a wider body of work containing a few fireworks which make the present album of symphonies a suitable landscape in which to place such more colourful subjects.
It's more likely that this CD will remain largely in the domain of those listeners who are keen collectors of work from Pichl's particular period.