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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphonies: 34 in C, K. 338, 39 in E flat, K. 543, Minuet in C K. 409 (383f)
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Hubert Soudant
Rec Feb.28-March 1.2002 in the "Grosser Saal", Mozarteum Salzburg
ARTE NOVA 74321 92760 [53í 44"]

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Time was that it seemed a little strange that such an important Mozartian place, geographically, as Salzburg should have an orchestra that was on a fairly provincial level. Things sound to be better now and Iíve no complaints in that sense about these scrupulously prepared and very well played accounts.

The Dutch conductor Hubert Soudant won the Karajan Conducting Prize in Berlin in 1971 and the Cantelli Competition in Milan in 1973. Since then he has built up a reputation as a reliable, clear-headed interpreter of a wide range of music, both in the concert hall and in the opera house. He has been conductor of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra since 1994.

Although the instruments are modern ones these performances are in many ways children of their time, with plenty of detached articulation, swift speeds (no suggestion that the andantes might really be adagios) and extremely buoyant, not least in the separate Minuet in C. The booklet writer quotes Einstein on this Ė "one of the most pompous Mozart ever wrote". Einstein hadnít heard Soudant conduct it. A lovely performance.

If thus far Soudant plays by the book, he is interventionist over dynamics, introducing sudden pianos and steep crescendos/diminuendos in many places (listen to the hair-pins in the wind parts at the start of the minuet of no. 39). I didnít feel it to be overdone though I did wonder if perhaps the apparent spontaneity of these gestures (very carefully rehearsed actually, I imagine) is lost when they come round exactly the same in repeats. Both finales get only first-half repeats. Our parentsí generation maybe heard this music as a little more majestic (at least as regards no. 39) but perhaps this is how we feel it today, and of course the likes of Walter and Böhm are available if you prefer them (or want to have alternatives).

Is Soudant on their level? Not quite, Iíd say. I often think that it is the capacity of a conductor to crown a performance with the finale to a symphony which marks him out as "great". Excellent as Soudantís account of the finale of no. 39 is, I have a particular fondness for an Intaglio issue, long disappeared, of Boult conducting the work in Boston. I wouldnít necessarily prefer Boult in the earlier movements but the finale takes fire and grows with every repetition (he even gives the second-half repeat, to the consternation of his audience). Now that is great conducting.

Still, with a bright and clear, but not clinical, recording, youíre getting two (or three) excellent performances at a very low price. Newcomers to classical music who learn the music this way will have every cause for gratitude and even those with deep pockets might wonder whether there is any point in paying more.

Christopher Howell


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