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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Symphonies Nos. 38 - 41 Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

In all the symphonies, the transparency of sound has you sitting bolt upright,...

Charlotte Gardner 2008

It is interesting that, in his eighth decade, Sir Charles Mackerras is revisiting music he has already produced fine recordings of. Even more interesting, the music is some of the most famous, arguably recorded-to-death, ever written. He evidently feels he has new insights worth sharing, and I, for one, am finding this extremely exciting. Last summer's complete Beethoven symphonies were a triumph, and now Mozart's 'Vienna' symphonies, also with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, are every bit as sparkling and immediate.

These were Mozart's last four symphonies; mature works containing some of his most famous themes. With music so well known that one's brain takes a nap, it is worth remembering that it is overplayed because it is so very good. That said, it still takes musical brilliance to make wearied ears feel as if they’re hearing Mozart's Symphony No.40 in G minor K550 for the first time. However, that is exactly what Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have done. Mackerras's knowledge of Mozart and his music is possibly unmatchable, and here he has given a performance that serves as a reminder as to why K550 deserves its fame. In reduced lodgings, grieving his baby daughter's death, amidst soaring debts and with concert opportunities thin on the ground, it is unsurprising that Mozart was experiencing ''black thoughts'' as he composed. The massive contrast of the thin string opening with the huge forces of the previous symphony, the lack of trumpets or timpani throughout, and the angst-ridden, fitful opening theme, mean it probably isn't fanciful to see this as a more autobiographical work than Mozart tended to produce. This performance's phrasing and articulation emphasise all these things to the maximum.

Looking at the disc as a whole, the use of close microphones and a chamber orchestra has created an intimate sound more akin to that which must have been felt by the original audiences in their smaller rooms. In all the symphonies, the transparency of sound has you sitting bolt upright, anticipating the next note. This recording should have you stampeding to the record shops.

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