This Brilliant Classics box of Mozart Symphonies is
the second of two volumes. In addition to the numbered works it also
contains the un-numbered symphonies, K.111a, and K.196. Brilliant Classics
have also included two separate versions of Symphony No. 40, K550, with
and without clarinets. These two boxes form part of Brilliant Classics
complete Mozart Edition which are available at budget price.. Currently
both sets can be bought for just under £13.00 each (6 CDs) and so they
are probably amongst the cheapest sets of this kind currently available.
They come in to direct competition with DG’s Collectors Edition conducted
by Trevor Pinnock.
Like the DG issue, there are comprehensive notes, but
details of the works themselves are a bit scant. Based upon the information,
the implication is that the same orchestra is used for all works, which
blatantly is not true – for example, how is it possible that two clarinets
are used for the version of K.550 without clarinets. Still this is of
very little consequence as all of the members of the orchestra appear
to be very good. The Mozart Akademie Amsterdam is one of the youngest
ensembles in the Netherlands. The orchestra plays on authentic instruments
and was formed by conductor and cellist Jaap ter Linden, for the performance
of the first Viennese School on period instruments. The conductor hand-picked
specialists from other well known European orchestras for this task,
and its many performances throughout the Netherlands have been met with
The recording quality is the main difference between
the recorded versions by the two conductors, Pinnock and ter Linden.
In the DG box, the orchestra is up close in very bright sound, whereas
the ter Linden performances are set in a more natural, concert-hall
acoustic. This has gains as well as losses. The gains are that the sound
is far less tiring on the ear, the Brilliant Classics box sounding very
mellow. The loss is that of meticulous balancing enabling one to hear
every strand of the musical argument. This is not to say that anything
is missing in the cheaper set, there is not. It is just that the DG
sound hits you like a sledge hammer whereas the Brilliant Classics box
beguiles the ear.
Of the two ensembles, there is very little to choose.
In some works tempi are faster in one set and slower in others, so there
is little competition. One area of difference is the sound of the strings.
The Dutch ensemble strings sound more period orientated than the English
Jaap ter Linden is probably less known in the UK than
Trevor Pinnock on the rival DG set. After completing his studies ter
Linden together with Ton Koopman, founded the ensemble Musica da Camera.
Subsequently he was a member of Musica Antiqua Köln, The English
Consort and The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra so he has operated within
the period music arena for some time. He then founded The Mozart Akademie
Amsterdam, dedicated to the performance and recording of classical repertoire.
He plays both cello and gamba and has appeared as soloist with pianist
Bart van Oort, violinists Andrew Manze and John Holloway and cembalists
Richard Egarr and Lars Ulrik Mortensen.
One other advantage (if this applies to you) is that
the more popular symphonies may be obtained at a much cheaper price
as you don’t need to buy the whole of Mozart’s canon at once.
In this box are included two un-numbered works which
must seem strange for these late symphonies. In the case of K 111, Mozart
has taken the Overture to the opera "Ascanio in Alba" and
created a symphony from the proceeds. The original choral ending to
the overture was replaced by Mozart to make the symphony.
The Italian influence of composers such as Giovanni
Battista Sammartini and Luigi Boccherini was applied to Mozart’s early
symphonic writing and these symphonies show clear allegiance to these
works. In the other un-numbered work, the K. 196 was based upon the
Overture to "La Finta Giardiniera" and coincided with the
development of the symphony based upon the influence of the Mannheim
School. Like the earlier work mentioned earlier, Mozart wrote a third
movement to make a symphonic whole. Until then symphonies were principally
for strings alone with the woodwind instruments being added for additional
colour in the 1770s. Both of these un-numbered symphonies have the wind
instruments present adding colour to the proceedings.
Once we get to the symphonies in the 20s, we reach
some of the composer’s well known works, and this is where this set
starts. Unfortunately Symphonies Nos. 27, 28 and 30, K. 199, K.200 and
K. 20 are not included in this set – for these you will have to buy
Volume 1. Still, we get No. 24, 25, 26 and 29, K. 182, 183, 184, and
201. The latter work is one of Mozart’s miraculous masterpieces and
has been a firm favourite with music lovers the world over for a long
time. In this performance the symphony is lovingly phrased and played
by conductor and orchestra.
When we arrive at the last 10 symphonies, we reach
the real core of Mozart’s symphonic writing.
This middle range, known as the Salzburg Symphonies,
showed a marked development in the stature of Mozart’s symphonic writing.
The initial symphonies were written in Austria, following Mozart’s stay
in Paris, and they were the last of Mozart’s symphonies to be published
in his lifetime. No. 33 in B Flat Major was originally written in three
movements, in the Italian style. He later added a minuet and trio, so
converting it to what had become commonly known as the Viennese school.
The remainder of his symphonies were in this style except the Prague,
which had only three movements. The three geographically named symphonies,
Paris, Linz, Prague, all names reflecting the cities in which they were
first performed or in the case of the Linz Symphony, where written.
The Haffner Symphony, was written at the request of Leopold Mozart to
celebrate the ennoblement of his old friend Siegmund Haffner, the same
person for whom the Haffner Serenade had been written earlier. It was
really another orchestral serenade with two minuets, rather than a full
blown symphony, although to hear it in this performance it fully takes
on its symphonic stature.
The great last three symphonies are in fact four in
this set, as ter Linden has decided to include the original version
of No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, without clarinets. This version is less
well known than the final version (also played here) and it is interesting
to compare one against the other, in two very similar performances.
It is definitely true that the clarinets give extra body to the symphony,
explaining why it has become the preferred version.
This box is rounded off by a superb performance of
the Jupiter, extremely lively and downright jubilant in the last
movement, as it should be, with trumpets sounding exuberantly festive.
There is one big disadvantage with this set – once
you hear it you will probably wish to buy Volume 1 as well.
Very highly recommended.