Mozart: Symphonies 38-41 - Mackerras
Linn Records CKD 308 (2 discs)
Mozart: Symphony No. 38 in D major K.504 "Prague", Symphony No. 39 in E flat major K.543, Symphony No. 40 in G minor K.550, Symphony No. 41 in C major K.551 "Jupiter"
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor)
A multi-award winning double album of some of Mozart's finest symphonic works.
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Recorded at City Halls, Glasgow, UK from 3-9 August 2007
Produced by James Mallinson
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Edited, mixed and mastered by Julia Thomas, Finesplice, UK
Review by John Broggio - February 4, 2008
From the opening of the Prague symphony to the final notes of the Jupiter symphony, it is clear that this is very special music making indeed. Where some have become more relaxed as they enter their ninth decade, Sir Charles Mackerras has been reinvigorated by the HIP movement as evinced by this document. Adopting period brass, he elicits clear (but never sparse) textures which glow alternately with warmth and blistering white heat.
The woodwind are naturally ever-present; never dominating the strings but always audible in a way that reinforces the structure and adds many felicities to the listening experience (aided by the divided violins). The SCO are familiar with both the music and Mackerras (having recorded a complete cycle for Telarc in the 1990's) but this achievement is overshadowed by the tremendous fire on display here. The vigour of the dramatic moments is matched by the sensitivity of the moments of tender beauty in the score. All repeats are included but the drive and grip of the music exhibited by Mackerras and the SCO mean that these feel like an integral part of the music - indeed, turning to competing accounts where the repeats are omitted leads one to feeling bitterly cheated.
Phrase runs into phrase, all lines are audible such is the care and finesse of the balancing of the orchestra. The marriage of what might be termed old-fashioned approaches to Mozart (i.e. the Romantic sensibilities of say Karl Böhm) and those espoused by the HIP movement has never been so successfully conducted. The mood of the music is reflected so gracefully that it changes from joy to depression in a matter of bars before transforming entirely once more - and this is with lithe playing, not the overladen accounts that were a feature of the 1970's.
As the drama of the opening Don Giovanni-like introduction to the Prague symphony gives way to the extremely challenging Allegro, the following flowing beauty of the Andante with the moments of anguish and the concluding bubbling presto Finale one feels that all is nigh-on perfect for this work. The 39th symphony opens with a refreshing fleet (yet weighty) Adagio before the pre-Eroica grandeur of the Allegro (this is forward looking and insightful conducting at its best). The slow movement with almost Schubertian angst in the climaxes has arguably never been so well played - the emotional screw is tightened in a framework of good manners that is almost an unbearable contrast. Following this is a delightfully rendered Menuetto and Trio (where the clarinet really does seem to babble) and an account of the Finale that is joyfully triumphant.
The second disc is at least as good - seldom have the accompanying figures of the opening Molto allegro to the 40th symphony been so clear and closely integrated to the whole musical argument. The drama is intense yet refined which very few manage to combine successfully. A thoroughly beautiful respite follows before we are plunged back into the Sturm und Drang world of the Menuetto. The finale has to be heard to be believed; simply tremendously invigorating playing that carries all before. To imagine that this could be played at such dizzying speeds without being at all breathless or with such grace is hard to do but imagination is not needed in the listeners mind at all!
To cap it all, we are treated to a majestic performance of the Jupiter symphony. From the opening mighty fanfares that open the massive Allegro vivace through the velvety sublime Andante, this is really very insightful music making that brings one closer to Mozart's imagination. The Menuetto is scarcely less thought provoking before the myriad of fugal writing that dominates the finale makes the mind work incessantly just to keep up! That we can and enjoy the results is a great tribute to all involved.
All of this would be for nothing if the recording didn't match the playing - it does and the presentation feels so natural that one could almost get up and touch the stage! With no clouding or dryness allied to a perfect sense of bloom, this could well be the finest recording that Linn have yet produced.
In short, I can't imagine Mozart being better performed on any type of instruments - this is a wonderful set that will remain long in the memory. It makes every fibre of my body want to sing - inspirational!
Copyright © 2008 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
Review by Adrian Quanjer - November 12, 2010
Beautifully and very well played! No reason to add or subtract much that has thus far been said on this score. However, I do agree with those having a problem with the recorded sound. I do not think it has anything to do with my equipment: It is LINN. Take for instance the final movement of the Jupiter: The sound gets muddied in the tutties, groups of instruments are difficult to pin point. The louder they play the worse it gets. A pity, really. This said, and to make sure that it isn’t my ears, I put on the final movement of Haydn’s military symphony, played by a comparable Dutch band under the often more than inspired direction of Gordon Nicolic on Pentatone. What a difference! The stage opened up. Gone the crowded and distorted scene in the louder passages. On balance, however, I find that there is enough to admire in this set and those less concerned about sound quality should not be put off by my remarks.
Copyright © 2010 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net