John Abraham Fisher Symphonies have plenty of hooks

John Abraham Fisher was all the rage in 18th Century London. He was a violin virtuoso with a streak of showmanship. By his thirties had a share in the Covent Garden Theatre, a hit oratorio making the rounds, and concertized frequently to great admiration (among the public, if not the critics).

His six symphonies were published in 1772, and represent an interesting amalgam. To my ears, they had the English sound of William Boyce blended with the Mannheim School techniques of Johann Stamitz. But it’s a blend that works quite effectively.

Fisher uses the Mannheim Rocket, building to big crescendos by piling on instruments. His melodies have clean, clear phrasing that lends itself to motivic development. Where he differs from Stamitz and company is in form and orchestration.

The six symphonies in this set all have a three-movement form, essentially fast-slow-fast. This varies from the Mannheim innovation of the four-movement symphony. Fisher’s orchestration is also more conservative. He supplements the strings with bassoons, oboes, and horns — no clarinets (another Mannheim innovation).

The Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice is directed by Michael Halász. The performances are crisp and energetic. I found this an enjoyable listen, and an instructive one. Music is often a continuum rather than a set of distinct stages. Fisher’s symphonies come after Style Galante and just before the Classical Era of Mozart and Haydn.

They might be transitional, but these symphonies have their own internal logic. Audiences of the day enjoyed Fisher’s symphonies. And I did, too.

John Abraham Fisher: Symphonies Nos. 1-6
Petra Ždárská, harpsichord
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Michael Halász, conductor
Naxos

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