Another highly attractive issue in the Philips' Duo
series. These two discs contain all Mozart's 'mature' symphonies save
the Linz (No. 36 in C, K425). While one may reasonably regret the omission,
the fact is that the CD format simply will not accommodate any more
music than is collected here, so something had to give. Therefore even
the discerning collector will have to look beyond this issue for the
music which will complete the collection.
There are few conductors alive today who can match
the credentials of Sir Colin Davis when it comes to Mozart. Not just
in the operas but in the concert works too, he reveals himself a master
of his art. Tempi and balances are beautifully judged, while the Philips
recorded sound is consistently fine, whether of 1981 or 1988 vintage.
The remasterings make it better than ever, in fact.
Each symphony is given a pleasing performance, that
any discerning listener will be able to live with. In the earliest of
them, the Haffner, there might perhaps be a little more joie de vivre
in the lively outer movements, particularly the finale. However, the
more substantial and powerful Prague Symphony adds an extra dimension
of strength and power in Davis's hands. With a fine 'modern' orchestra
at his disposal, the conductor wrings the maximum of emotion from the
intense slow introduction and from the central Andante, with the result
that the Allegro outer movements gain still further in power. This is
a very satisfying performance indeed.
Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 were, it seems, composed within
the month of June 1788. Perhaps that is why each of them is so different
from its fellows, as if Mozart was desperate to avoid repeating himself.
No. 39 is not lacking in drama, though one wonders if the more rhythmic
aspects of the outer movements might have gained a higher priority.
The orchestral playing is second to none, and in this symphony the horns
and clarinets gain special accolades.
Symphony No. 40 gains from the well chosen tempi which
Davis adopts, the music at once lively and clear headed. There is also
a satisfying intensity of tone in the climactic moments, not least in
the wonderful slow movement. In the more lively outer movements, Davis
succeeds in conveying the emotional intensity that lies at the heart
of the music.
Davis is on record as particularly admiring the finale
of the great Jupiter Symphony: No. 41 in C major. And it is right to
lay special emphasis in this direction. For this is a 'finale symphony',
in which the weight of the musical construction is found in the later
stages. The music has many stylistic flavours and concerns, but those
of opera buffa and post-baroque counterpoint weigh most heavily. Therefore
the lyrical aspects of the score need to be telling too, as indeed they
are here. The slow movement is poetic and eloquent, the minuet graceful
However, above all it must be the finale on which any
performance of Mozart's final symphony is judged. And Davis triumphs,
judging with enormous skill the balances between momentum and lyricism,
between excitement and intellectual development. The miracle of the
final pages of the score, delivered here with clarity as well as driving
intensity, confirm this as a significant achievement.