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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 31 in D major ‘Paris’ K297 (1778) [18:08]
Symphony No. 40 in G minor K550* (1788) [29:48]
Symphony No. 41 in C major ‘Jupiter’ K551* (1788) [29:51]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zdenek Macal/*Sir Charles Mackerras
Recorded at Watford Town Hall, 7 and 8 January 1980 and *Barking Town Hall, United Kingdom, 2 (K551) and 15 (K550) April 1975 ADD
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75800 2 1 [77:47]

On this release Classics For Pleasure feature three towering Mozart symphonies (31 ‘Paris’, 40 and the 41 ‘Jupiter) of which I consider the last two to be true symphonic masterpieces. These are cast iron standard repertoire. They always have been and will undoubtedly continue to be.

Naturally owing to the impeccable credentials of these symphonies a plethora of eminent conductors and record companies have been queuing up since the advent of recorded sound to record these works. The vast number of available recordings are a testament to their popularity and consequently the competition is extremely fierce with many of the recordings being highly regarded. Furthermore the particular taste of the listener is also widely catered for in the record catalogues. There are historic mono recordings from Arturo Toscanini with the NBC SO and Sir Thomas Beecham with the LPO. Stereo analogue recordings from the batons of Karl Böhm and Herbert von Karajan both with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Digital period recordings from Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert and John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists. Digital recordings using modern instruments by Barry Wordsworth and the Capella Istropolitana and Sir Charles Mackerras with the Prague Chamber Orchestra.

It is against this savage competition that Classics For Pleasure have released this digitally re-mastered recording from 1976 and 1981. The London Philharmonic Orchestra play on all three symphonies and two conductors are employed; Zdenek Macal for the symphony No. 30 and Sir Charles Mackerras on the symphonies Nos. 40 and 41.

Commissioned by Le Gross the conductor of the Concerts Spirituels in Paris to write him a symphony, "in the Parisian style", Mozart duly composed the symphony No. 31 ‘Paris’ in 1778 within a few months of his mother’s death. In response to adverse public criticism concerning its length Mozart shortened the slow movement; however the original slow movement is reinstated for this recording. The symphony is scored for the largest orchestral forces that Mozart had utilised so far and included clarinets for the first time in a symphony. Here conductor Zdenek Macal gives a thoughtful yet rather standard performance.

Sir Charles Mackerras is a Mozartian conductor out of the top drawer and gives an exceptionally fine performance of the magnificent symphony No. 40 which Mozart composed in just six weeks in the summer of 1788 at a time of terrible personal despair. Mackerras’s reading gives plenty of the necessary contrasting character, successfully balancing the score’s dark and passionate thoughts.

The symphony No. 41 ‘Jupiter’, also composed in 1788, is a masterwork that is intensely human in its loveliness and gaiety. Mackerras is a sensitive interpreter of the symphony’s required joyfully majestic moods and provides a fresh and stylish account although the pace of the third movement Menuetto proved frustratingly laboured.

Despite the merits of this budget price CFP release each of the three symphonies can be much improved elsewhere in the catalogue. The choice naturally depends on individual taste but putting price aside my suggestion would be Mackerras’s Telarc readings with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for No. 31 (with 33 and 34) on CD80190 and No. 40 and 41 on CD80139. Or for just the symphonies No. 40 and 41 Leonard Bernstein’s digital recordings with the VPO on DG 4455484 is the preferred choice.

Michael Cookson

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