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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 (1788) [32:16]
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551, Jupiter (1788) [35:37]
Tafelmusik Orchestra/Bruno Weil
rec. Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, 29 June–1 July 2006. DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 82876895042 [68:05]
Experience Classicsonline

The opening of this Symphony No. 40 is quiet, not insistent. Nothing is forced, yet Bruno Weil and the period instruments of Tafelmusik Orchestra achieve a restlessness in their fast, compelling progression. This is confirmed by the vivid contrast from soft strings’ opening to loud articulation at the very first tutti (tr. 1 0:18). Weil admirably demonstrates that what gives the movement its drama is the stressing of the first theme as a rhythmic as much as melodic cell. The second theme (0:47), in B flat major rather than G minor, appears like a happy recall, not of the present time. The development is vigorous as well as disciplined, a message as well as argument. Similarly the movement’s climax at 6:10 is revealed in classical sobriety after a full-blooded crescendo. This is the presentation of grim logic in perfect layering.
 
I compared the most recent period instrument recording of this CD’s coupling, that by Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski made in 2005 (Archiv 00289 477 5798). Here are the comparative timings:-
 
Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Weil
7:10
12:12
3:34
9:20
32:16
Minkowski
7:08
10:58 (15:20)
3:40
6:35 (9:24)
28:21 (35:35)

                                                            
Minkowski’s published playing time is faster because he omits the second half repeats in the second and final movements. I’ve therefore added a true equivalent timing above in brackets. Weil uses Mozart’s original orchestration, a rarity in recordings. Minkowski gives us the revised orchestration with clarinets as well as oboes, more luscious and seductive, but the greater involvement of Weil’s oboes provides a more ascetic experience, well suited to this symphony’s overall mood. Weil uses a smaller string band of 24 with 7 first violins, 6 seconds, 4 violas, 4 cellos and 3 double-basses where Minkowski has 38 with 12/10/6/6/4. This gives Weil the advantage in clarity of texture.
 
There’s more conscious melodic shaping in Minkowski’s first movement but less overall sense of energy. His second theme is more expansive, pondering awhile, less classical. His tuttis and development seem more intellectual, which might be because of the discipline of a live performance. Yet Minkowski does get more tension at the climax of the development with icier high first violins against more marked sforzandi in the horns, where Weil’s are somewhat glazed over (from 4:27).
 
The Andante second movement from Weil is tidy, fleet and relatively nonchalant. But his clarity of presentation allows the chromatic spicing right from the opening theme to make its mark. In particular the ascents in the first violins’ counter-theme (tr. 2 0:26), give the whole a wistful nature. The later clutch of wisps of demisemiquavers exchanged by woodwind and first violins emerge more airily owing to the open tone of the period woodwind instruments. Indeed Weil finds an intriguing ambivalence in this movement. The tutti (2:13) near the end of the exposition, with the strings in low yet woodwind in quite high register, is warmer than Minkowski’s. As the first violins skip down in response to the woodwind demisemiquaver ascents at 2:26, Weil is more dainty, less exquisite than Minkowski. Weil’s development is firmer and the recapitulation evolves naturally and satisfyingly. Weil gets across all the expressive effects without giving a romantic performance or lingering at all but simply through clarity of texture - the significant viola part at 7:27. The outcome is fresh and engaging, but Minkowski’s development is more tense before beautifully becalming with more dynamic contrast here than Weil. At the start Minkowski is more tender but his tempo is more Adagietto than Andante, making the movement imparting a stronger reflective character. The demisemiquaver figurations are on the other hand more self-conscious.
 
Weil’s Minuet has a businesslike rigour and in its second section fight between theme and counter-theme is admirable. Minkowski’s combatants are a touch more evenly matched but Weil’s overall demeanour is more spruce. G minor becomes G major for a Trio which is lighter in sonority and smoother in phrasing but with Weil the overall discipline and Spartan demonstration of logical progression is unflinching. Minkowski, again more romantically, slows down, making the Trio more an idyllic interlude. Weil gives a stimulating account of the finale as a blistering display because it is genuinely Allegro assai and the alternating soft strings and loud tutti phrases of the first theme are vividly contrasted. Minkowski’s approach is lighter, more operatic. The second theme (tr. 4 1:02) Weil makes an interlude of something more gracious in its sinuous chromatic descents, yet there’s no loss of momentum so the fiery impulse of the codetta (1:29) seems a matter of continuity. Minkowski’s second theme is more melting. From Weil the development’s fugato (from 4:02) is a dexterous, cleanly proposed argument yet spikier in effect than Minkowski’s cooler exploration. When the second theme returns in the recapitulation, now in G minor rather than B flat major, Weil is more affectingly doleful where Minkowski is more cowed. The abiding impression, however, from Weil’s performance is a heroic determination to cope in the face of adverse circumstances.
 
Weil points up the difference of the Jupiter symphony, not just a matter of the weight brought by the addition of trumpets and drums, but a whole approach which is bracingly high spirited. This time the opening is a loud tutti but the strings’ response is soft and suave. Weil’s first movement is a truer Allegro vivace than Minkowski’s which is Allegretto and not vivace. Minkowski stresses clarity of articulation at too much expense of momentum. Weil’s second theme (tr. 5 1:23) is given a gently smiling exuberance with a warm string bass before an even more cracking tutti, in pace and rhythm as much as dynamic, whereas Minkowski goes for showmanship in making the tutti ff rather than the marked f after a sleepier second theme. Weil’s third theme (2:31) is restfully coaxing before an assertive tutti. His strings’ running quavers in the development are spikily projected. The fake recapitulation enters quietly (7:04) to be followed by waspish demisemiquaver strings in the further development before a robust real recapitulation. Here are the comparative timings with Minkowski
 
Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Weil
10:59
9:07
4:08
11:23
35:37
Minkowski
12:14
10:00
4:16
10:33
37:03

Weil makes the Andante cantabile flow creamily and the small body of strings conveys a winsome intimacy, with an element of fantasy about the muted violins’ flurries of demisemiquavers. However, arguably the contrast from soft to loud in the chord that punctuates the first two phrases is too firm and therefore brusque in effect. Interestingly it’s more subtly realized in the repeat by the lower strings as are the series of dynamic contrasts within the more passionate second theme (tr. 5 1:08), happily so as this material becomes significant in the development. At a somewhat slower tempo Minkowski’s dynamic contrasts are smoother. He injects urgency into the second theme by increasing the tempo, then becomes more expansive for the third theme. Weil delivers this (1:42) warmly, its tripping violin semiquavers which is likely to be your abiding memory of this movement, blithe and comely where Minkowski favours a more delicate articulation.
 
Weil’s Minuet has a sinuous gliding start but its loud second phrase is joyfully contrasted as the chromatic descents gather exuberantly. Here’s an Allegretto that’s never simply elegant but has strength of cohesion, partly because of the relative weight of trumpets and drums against the small body of strings, partly because of the attention to contrast in dynamics. In the same vein the Trio is lightly proposed but its second strain has more weight before it relaxes. This all adds up to a more imperial and mettlesome approach than the amiable Minkowski juxtaposing sweetness and bounce in the Minuet and a Trio by turns blithe and sprightly.
 
Again and with attractive consistency in the finale a soft proposition on strings is answered by a loud tutti and the density of texture and argument is crisply articulated by Weil. The second theme (tr. 8 1:02) is gentler in manner but the momentum never flags though the sforzandi in the ensuing tutti (1:48, 1:50) and in their later appearances could be more marked, as Minkowski shows. Weil’s coda’s display of the five themes flourishing together has a wonderfully affirmative sense of fulfilment. He also offers a first recording of a correction of the bassoon part of bars 255 to 259 (5:55 to 5:59), explained in scholarly detail in the booklet note, which otherwise creates “dissonances reminiscent of Debussy”. But you’d need extremely keen ears to spot them, even in Minkowski’s recording. For once in this finale he’s faster than Weil to more animated effect, sparklingly festive with the electricity of a live performance. But Weil’s broader treatment has refinement, intensity and concentration.
 
The Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recording has a natural and pleasing bloom and yet also great clarity: every instrumental contribution makes its mark. In sum, Weil’s Symphony No. 40 is finely proportioned but a touch unyielding, an account more to esteem than hold in affection. This consistent, disciplined approach is more attractive in the Jupiter. And both symphonies are presented in true classical style where the more highly coloured Minkowski is more dramatic yet interventionist, more romantic in his tempo fluctuations and sometimes over-cooked dynamic contrasts.
 
Michael Greenhalgh
 

 


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