> Mozart - Late Symphonies [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K385 'Haffner' (1783)
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 'Prague’ (1787)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543 (1788)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 (1790)
Symphony No. 41 in C major 'Jupiter' (1790)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis
Rec Nov 1981 (Nos. 39, 41), Sept 1988 (Nos. 35, 38, 40), Dresden
PHILIPS 4701 540-2 [2 CDs: 73.48+76.23]

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 yet vigorous.

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.

Terry Barfoot

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