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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphonies vol. 5 (1772)
Symphony No. 15 in G major, K124 [14:15]
Symphony No. 16 in C major, K128 [11:56]
Symphony No. 17 in G major, K129 [14:27]
Symphony No. 18 in F major, K130 [17:59]
Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Adam Fischer
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, 2006. DDD
DACAPO 6.220540 [58:45]

Though numbered volume 5 of 11 which are to comprise a complete Mozart symphony cycle to be recorded over the next five years, this is the first volume to appear.
ĎThe sun bursts out even in the fifth barí Adam Fischer says of Symphony 15 in his brief but entertainingly lively booklet notes. Thatís at track 1 0:05 and the burst is ensured by the attack brought to the appearance of the tremolando strings, creating a sforzando effect. By contrast thereís delicious garnishing from oboe duet and suave violins. The development, a quiet interlude (1:30), vanishes almost before you can take it in. Fischer revels in all these changes. In the Andante Fischer keeps the sweet, wispy violinsí tune flowing without sentimentality. The change of tone from earlier, now silky and very soft, is as if the violins are reduced in number or even muted. Fischer softens the tone further in the second half (tr. 2 3:19), obtaining a pianissimo effect. While being jolly and robust, Fischer also gives the Minuet a nice lift with dapper horns and strings neatly clipped in dynamic contrast. In the repeat of the first section (tr. 3 0:19) he introduces an effect in the stringsí accompaniment akin to col legno. His Trio, for which he uses solo strings, has a regal, sunny quality, sounding more relaxed without any change of tempo. Fischerís rondo finale is unmistakably very fast, the theme with a scrubbed abrasiveness about it, the paradox of the coda (1:36), both lively in manner and inconsequential in matter, comes across exactly.
I compared the 2001 SACD recording by the Mozart Akademie Amsterdam/Jaap ter Linden (Brilliant Classics 92543). Here are the comparative timings:

ter Linden
2:13 (2:42)
14:22 (14:51)

In the first movement ter Linden is more measured and portly in a more glowing acoustic, the dynamic contrasts magnified by the vivid surround sound. His period instrument strings are more incisive but he places more emphasis on melody than vigour, soft pedalling the tremolando effects. Fischer is more animated yet also shows more nuance in the more smoothly shaped string descents (eg. tr. 1 0:20). The slow movement has more breadth and grace in ter Lindenís hands. Its wind punctuation glows more and its easygoing, open perspective is very agreeable. I also prefer his faster, racier Minuet and more liltingly curvaceous Trio. Unlike Fischer he doesnít provide repeats in the da capo, hence the bracketed timings above for exact comparison. Fischer reserves his raciness for the finale, yet also gets across the humour of the quieter passages where ter Linden is content with contrasting brisk scintillation and niftiness.
Symphony 16 Fischer shows, after a fairly gentle preamble in its opening movement, works itself into a rigorous second theme from the first violins (tr. 5 0:36) which he treats as if marked pesante. Fischer enlivens the development (2:22) with gruff strings tremolando attack and quizzical violinsí response. Neither Fischer nor ter Linden make the second half repeat, suggested as optional in the Barenreiter Urtext, though they do in the slow movement, scored for strings only in intimate, delicate imitation, though occasionally more assertive. As in Symphony 15 Fischer softens the tone midway through the second half repeat (tr. 6 3:24). Fischer enjoys the boisterousness of Symphony 16ís finale which is all bounce and shimmer.
Here are the comparative timings of Fischer and ter Linden:
ter Linden

In the first movement ter Linden smoothes out the second theme a little more and the wind contributions are a shade more explicit. His slower second movement is more formal, rather more aristocratically self-conscious, yet thereby its surprising variety of rhythm and manner is more explicit. Fischer goes for a more gossamer, tripping nature and makes more use of dynamic contrasts albeit consistently underplaying the loud elements. The finale is more sunny and festive in ter Lindenís hands but Fischerís rhythmic interplay in the second section is neater to iridescent effect.
Symphony 17 stands out in Fischerís bold characterization. Almost immediately you notice the rather skittish semiquaver/dotted quaver rhythms in the violins which are then used in imitation to create a second theme (tr. 8 0:29) before the vigour of a Mannheim crescendo. The dotted rhythms then dominate the development (2:25). The slow movement is simple and sweetly flowing: Ďnobody can banish the theme from his mindí writes Fischer. He treats it with affectionate gentleness, making its returns softer so the final one (tr. 9 3:33) is hardly present. The finale finds the violins in yelping syncopation (tr. 10 0:18) and a brief gallop but the quieter passages are intimately contrasted by Fischer using just solo strings for them.
Here are the comparative timings of Fischer and ter Linden:††
ter Linden
2:53 (4:05)
14:45 (15:37)

Although ter Lindenís first movement is slightly slower, thereís more brio about it because of the greater sonority of his performance and recording. His crescendo is more exciting, his development of stronger dynamic contrasts and his greatest focus on the melodic triumph of the penetrating period violins. Fischer is equally satisfying by being lighter and more humorous. Come the slow movement ter Linden makes a good case for an easy, flowing unadulterated approach with lovely gleaming string tone. Fischer goes for the fragility of a winsome soft focus but also firmer shaping. In the finale ter Linden is forthright and fresh without Fischerís sophisticated contrasts in forces but doesnít repeat the second half, so the bracketed timing above provides an exact comparison. Fischer is more incisive and his presentation more virtuosic.
Symphony 18 seems the most experimental, partly because of the unusual scoring, oboes being exchanged for creamier flutes and 4 horns required instead of 2. As in Symphony 17 thereís the Scotch snap dotted rhythm opening but here more lightly applied, to friskier effect, especially in the second theme (tr. 11 0:47) with the second violins echoing the firsts. In this slow movement Mozart asks for muted violins and Fischer provides a very soft, demure effect, quite a contrast to the open air quality of the flutes. The Minuet would be orthodox except for a fretting viola line of continuous quavers. Fischerís use of solo instruments in the Trio suits it well, giving a folksy slant to the first violin melody. The finale upstages the first movement in its sense of purpose and profusion of themes. Notable are the second (tr. 14 0:27), coy and brazen by turns and third (0:55), more wistful and at first sinuous before Mozart starts a game of using pauses as an expressive effect. Fischer omits the second half repeats in the first, second and final movements: this could be a very long symphony.
I compared the 1973 recording by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner (Pentatone PTC 5186 112) which appears on 4 channel SACD from its original quadraphonic master. Here are the comparative timings:
2:28 (2:55)
20:38 (21:05)

Marriner is consistently more easygoing. In the first movement his second theme is more sparkling but his development more square than Fischer who shows more humour and grace. Marrinerís slow movement is more sedate, Fischerís more tender and with clearer contrast of the strings only and flute dominated textures. Marrinerís Minuet is more disturbed by the violasí shadows, his Trio more formal yet still reflective. Marriner doesnít make the repeats in the da capo so the bracketed timings above show the exact comparison. The breadth of Marrinerís finale makes for a firmer structure which lacks Fischerís ťlan, finesse and attention to pauses. Marriner gives us a sweeping parade of themes whereas Fischer differentiates them more.
To sum up, Fischer provides excellent performances, full of character and intelligent variation of tone and dynamic. In addition to Fischerís notes there are informative ones by Claus Johansen on the cultural milieu of 1772 and conventions of orchestration with particular focus on the oboe. This disc is unusual in that itís a two-layer SACD hybrid, so you get CD and higher definition SACD stereo which gives clarity to the comfortable forward placement and glowing ambience of the recording. But thereís no multi-channel, surround sound version as there is for the recordings Iíve used for comparison. In that respect those offer the more vivid listening experience.
Michael Greenhalgh



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