is one of a batch of discs released this year by the Chamber
Orchestra of Europe - on its own label - in celebration
of its 25th anniversary. The coincidence of this anniversary
with the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth seems to have
featured heavily in the choice of repertoire for the first
batch of discs. That said, the repertoire choice is not a
cynical one, and the coincidence of anniversaries is serendipitous.
After all, Mozart’s symphonies have been at the heart of
this orchestra’s repertoire since its inception, so what
better way is there to celebrate the endurance of their combined
Both symphonies receive warm, affectionate performances
here in clear digital sound, produced and engineered by none
other than Brian Culverhouse.
The ‘Prague’ begins slowly, building into an
affectionate development which underplays the movement’s
minor key modulations and misses some of the drama I am accustomed
to. There could also be more delicacy in the central andante,
warmly though it is treated here. The finale is bright and
perky, the strings sounding as one and the woodwinds making
the most of their characterful solo spots.
The 39th also gets off to a slowish start, but once
past the introduction, the first movement flows beautifully.
Again, Schneider wallows somewhat in the andante, but matters
improve in the third movement, though I miss the cut and
thrust of Harnoncourt with the Concertgebouw here (Warner
Elatus 0927-49828-2). This leads into another bright, cheerful
There are many schools of Mozart performance, ranging
from the big-band, string-heavy approach of Karajan, Walter
and Böhm, to the period performance style of Hogwood and Pinnock.
The COE’s performances here lean towards the former rather
than the latter. While the chamber orchestra size of the
ensemble means that strings never overwhelm Mozart’s sparkling
writing for horns, flutes, oboe and clarinet, Schneider is
a conductor of the old school, favouring broader tempi and
warmth over excitement. The orchestra’s playing is light,
clean and efficient throughout. Certainly no complaints
on that front.
The choice to acquire this disc, then, comes down to
the approach to these scores that you favour. I would recommend
Böhm’s Berlin Philharmonic performances on Deutsche Grammophon
above these if you prefer the big-band approach, though you
will have to live without repeats. If, like me, you take
the middle path, Harnoncourt is your man and the Concertgebouw
your orchestra. With modern instruments and a bracing approach
informed by period performance practice, these are the readings
that I return to time and time again.
I should also note that the COE is competing against
itself in these pieces in this anniversary year, as Warner
Classics has released a 25th anniversary double CD - which
I have not heard - of the orchestra playing Mozart’s last
four symphonies under Harnoncourt (see review).
This coupling faces a lot of competition, but no one
acquiring this disc is likely to be disappointed and, as
a first flirtation with these symphonies, the COE’s performances
here will do very nicely. Those who already have their larders
well stocked with Mozart’s 38th and 39th, though, do not
need to add these readings to their collection.
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