Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 and 40 (Orchestra Mozart; Claudio Abbado) Review

Live. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An album that absolutely demands to be heard.

Graham Rogers 2011

Claudio Abbado has always had an affinity for Mozart, but now, as he approaches his eighth decade, the veteran maestro seems to be plumbing increasingly supreme depths of insight. In this new album of recordings made at public concerts in Bologna in 2008 and 2009, his illuminating interpretations of two of Mozart's great final symphonies are enhanced by the frequently astonishing playing of his hand-picked Orchestra Mozart.

The festive introduction to Symphony No.39 bursts into life with well-sprung dotted rhythms that instantly evoke the atmosphere of The Magic Flute (written in the same home key of E flat) – suitably magisterial without pomposity. The allegro begins in relaxed, almost unassuming manner, but soon gathers forward drive with sharp articulations. The mien is satisfyingly serious, the mood overwhelmingly joyful. No detail escapes Abbado's attention, from buoyant Bruckner-like cello pizzicato passages to arresting trumpet fanfares. The woodwind is particularly song-like and soulful in the second movement, where the intensity of the tempestuous outbursts is all the greater for Abbado's classical restraint. The minuet has purposeful tread and an infectious lilt, with a deliciously shapely clarinet melody in the trio. Orchestra Mozart shines with such brilliance, and the maturity of Abbado's thoughts on the music are so pertinent, that it hardly matters that the finale doesn't achieve the unrestrained exhilaration of, say, Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Linn.

Similarly, despite superbly crisp lower string accompaniment that provides crucial bite and momentum, the dark-hued first movement of Symphony No.40 in G minor lacks the spontaneity of Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert on Archiv. But it could be argued that this is not spontaneous music: despite his extraordinary natural gift, Mozart laboured long and hard over his compositions – and Abbado often appears to be tapping directly into that creative genius with these enlightening performances. The andante has a gentle but inexorable flow and entrancingly ethereal woodwind passages; the minuet has a nimble dance-like feel while maintaining immense gravitas. The tempo and mood in the finale are spot on: urgent but not hectic, intense but not histrionic.  

Just occasionally in these brilliant performances, Abbado's attention to detail compromises the freedom of the whole; but the unrivalled quality of that detail makes this an album that absolutely demands to be heard.

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