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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor K550 (1788) [26:29]
Symphony No. 41 in C major Jupiter K551 (1788) [37:01]
Manchester Camerata/Douglas Boyd
rec. live, 4 February 2006, The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
AVIE AV 2107 [63:50]

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Did anyone turn up to this concert? So well behaved is the audience, with no consumptives or even applause, that the ‘live’ label might well have been left off – more importantly, the Manchester Camerata are so disciplined and fluff-free that, even only a few years ago, one might have suspected studio trickery. Musicians these days are used to performing under the white-hot spotlighting of microphones which are connected to digital recorders which will pick up someone scratching their nose let alone a bum note. Even allowing for post-performance patching, of which I hear no evidence; I would like to congratulate all concerned with such a fine production.

So, are we in the mood for more Mozart? At budget price (£6.25) we most certainly are, even when many of this CD’s rivals easily manage to cater for an extra symphony on the one disc. The Manchester Camerata play on modern instruments, but Douglas Boyd’s approach incorporates period performance practice, so expect a clean sound unencumbered with too much vibrato in strings or wind. K550 is so sparingly orchestrated that transparency is built-in, and the booklet notes mention Elgar’s comments: "a pitiful array of instruments, we may wonder how it is possible that a great art-work could be evolved from such sorry material." The orchestra is true to its chamber character and, while playing within itself, nonetheless projects the almost Beethovenian nature of the final Allegro assai movement. Boyd’s tempi are brisk without being overly hasty. Trawling through as many timings as I could find he seems to come in under the wire fairly consistently. Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert in the more resonant Henry Wood Hall (DG Archiv) sound heavier even on period instruments, but with greater numbers in the strings and lower tuning Pinnock’s is in any case a grander and more sumptuously symphonic recording.

I find the compact nature of the playing and sound in this recording entirely satisfying on its own terms. The Bridgewater Hall has a resonance which somehow manages to keep out of the way for the most part, allowing for graceful dynamic decrescendi without muddying the dramatic tuttis. This is immediately apparent with the opening calls of K551, but I agree less with Boyd’s slight delay each time the softer ‘answer’ appears – I prefer it when these grow out of the dying echoes of the opening tympani, rather than waiting for them to stop. The first movement takes a while to take off as a result of this, but the warmly expressive playing of the orchestra soon won me over. The muted violins of the second Andante cantabile movement are pleasantly hazed, without sounding at all woolly, and another strong aspect of this recording is emphasised: the clarity and balance of the inner voicing is exemplary throughout. The Menuetto is the only moment in this whole CD where I felt that just a fraction more speed might have been in order. Boyd is in no way slow – he comes in a good deal shorter than Pinnock – it’s the speed relative to the other movements which makes this one seem only ever so slightly pedestrian. Boyd’s rubati during the trio will also provide cause for discussion in some circles – little inflections of flexibility which will seem either intuitively natural or mannered and wilful, depending on your point of view. For me, life is too short for arguing about such things and I enjoy these little differences in interpretation – after all, if everyone played everything exactly the same the world would stop spinning on its axis, wouldn’t it?

The Jupiter closes with an impressive Molto allegro, and everyone lays into this with gusto – a big affirmative ‘yes!’ This is Mozart’s orchestral equivalent of an operatic finale, where characters and themes all join and sing together, raising the roof in a musical free-for-all underpinned by absolute compositional control. Douglas Boyd is also in complete and absolute control at all times, and it’s as if the opera orchestra has risen from the pit, elbowed the singers from the stage and taken over the theatre on a joyous, bloodless coup d’état.

To conclude, I would say that the main competitor to this CD is the same coupling with the Prague Chamber Orchestra under Sir Charles Mackerras on Telarc, now available at mid-price. This came out in 1986, and was perceived as swift at the time. Twenty years on and we’ve become used to intense, brisk tempi which have left Karl Böhm and the like well behind in the race, although I still hold an affection for Krips and the Concertgebouw on 1970s Philips. If you know and love the Mackerras recording I might dare suggest you stick, but if you are looking for a top notch, modern instrument chamber orchestra performance of two of the greatest classical symphonies ever written then I would say your money will be very well spent with this issue.

Dominy Clements

see also

BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 Douglas Boyd Manchester Camerata AV 0040 £6.25 post-free World-Wide

MAHLER Symphony 4 arranged for chamber orchestra by Erwin Stein Manchester Camerata Douglas Boyd Kate Royal AV 2069 £6.25 post-free World-Wide


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