Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 & 40 Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Surprisingly crisp and spry, but authentically Mozartian.

Michael Quinn 2010

Fresh from re-minting Mozart’s operas on disc, René Jacobs has turned his attention to the composer’s late symphonies with no less ripe and revelatory results.

Last year’s inauguration of the period-instrument survey served up scintillating accounts of the Prague (No.38) and the Jupiter (No.41), and this second volume fills in the missing works from this final quartet of symphonies by offering up their immediate companions – Nos. 39 in E flat major and 40 in G minor – both of which were composed, for unknown reasons, with astonishing rapidity along with the Jupiter in the space of about six weeks in 1788.

There’s a touch of fleet-footed time-travelling to be negotiated in Jacobs’ approach to the later Mozart, given his inclination to imbue the weightier works of maturity with all the effervescent (and occasionally earnest) lightness of spirit of the composer at his most youthfully irrepressible. He is ably aided and abetted in the deftly managed manoeuvre by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, who balance historical verisimilitude with the needs of modern ears to nimbly adroit perfection.

Jacobs seizes on the bold theatrical gestures that lend the E flat symphony its lightly-worn gravity and grandeur – the opening Adagio a purposeful but pristine backward glance to the French baroque; the irresistibly impish wit of the finale seeming to anticipate Haydn at his most high spirited – with an ebullience that edges tempi consistently upwards throughout. Which is not to say Jacobs’ pace is anything less than persuasive and engaging, the Freiburg strings especially responsive to, and clearly comfortable with, life in the fast lane.

That reflex disposition towards a higher gear imbues the otherwise sober opening of the G minor symphony with a singing, sprung ebullience that is altogether engaging, its nimble echo of Cherubino’s ‘Non so più cosa son’ from Le Nozze di Figaro perfectly integrated. Jacobs’ operatic instincts serve him well in both symphonies, particularly so in the elegiac leave-taking that underpins No.40.

The recording, in Freiburg’s Paulissaal, is pristine and perfectly frames pert, poised performances threaded together with an altogether graceful and natural elegance. Surprisingly crisp and spry these readings may be, but the result sounds and feels authentically Mozartian, Jacobs coaxing alert and alive playing from a band on the very top of their form.

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