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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.38 in D, ĎPragueí (1786) [27:10]
Symphony No.39 in E Flat (1788) [28:51]
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Alexander Schneider.
rec. 1986. DDD
COE RECORDS CD COE 806 [56:11]
 


This 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 Mozartís 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, Mozartís symphonies have been at the heart of this orchestraís repertoire since its inception, so what better way is there to celebrate the endurance of their combined music-making?
 
Both symphonies receive warm, affectionate performances here in clear digital sound, produced and engineered by none other than Brian Culverhouse.
 
The ĎPragueí begins slowly, building into an affectionate development which underplays the movementís 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 finale.
 
There are many schools of Mozart performance, ranging from the big-band, string-heavy approach of Karajan, Walter and BŲhm, to the period performance style of Hogwood and† Pinnock. The COEís performances here lean towards the former rather than the latter. While the chamber orchestra size of the ensemble means that strings never overwhelm Mozartís sparkling writing for horns, flutes, oboe and clarinet, Schneider is a conductor of the old school, favouring broader tempi and warmth over excitement. The orchestraís 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 BŲhmís 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 Mozartís 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 COEís performances here will do very nicely.† Those who already have their larders well stocked with Mozartís 38th and 39th, though, do not need to add these readings to their collection.
 
Tim Perry
 

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