Forty-Eight Symphonies by Mozart in a budget box played
by a premier period group orchestra, conducted by a well known and well
respected conductor, adherent to period performance practices at a low
price. This is one of the boxes in DG’s Collectors’ Edition - an Edition
that is building up into a very desirable series. This set is no exception,
and I can imagine impecunious collectors wanting a comprehensive collection
of Mozart Symphonies being overjoyed by this set.
The recordings are all recent, well up to DG’s best
standard and with playing which is both accurate, extremely lively where
needed, and very satisfying.
In all of the works, Trevor Pinnock directs and plays
a mean harpsichord in very sensitive and discreet continuo passages.
The comprehensive notes give the personnel used in these recordings
for each symphony together with detailed notes on each work. There are
also three separate essays by Tim Carter on The Early Symphonies, The
Salzburg Symphonies, and the Late Symphonies.
I haven’t checked, but these notes were probably reproduced
from their original appearance in the three separate full price issues
of these symphonies released earlier on the Archiv label. They give
full details of each work, with background information where relevant.
These substantially enhance the appeal of the box. The discs come packaged
in stout cardboard sleeves held in a slim-line case. This saves considerably
on shelf space and is a most practical way of supplying a large collection
Many of the early symphonies are of relatively little
worth, although all show the craftsmanship of the young composer. Some
of these prentice works don’t even carry a Symphony number, although
all have a K. Number. Scoring is very light, usually 2 oboes, 2 horns,
strings and harpsichord obbligato. As the symphonies proceed, flutes
begin to become part of the orchestral sound stage. By the time we reach
No. 7 in D Major, K.45, Mozart has added trumpets and strings, and the
obbligato has been swelled to include a bassoon. No. 9 in C sees the
addition of two flutes and by now we are hearing the usual sound picture
of Mozart’s symphonic world. In the early symphonies, Mozart used the
Italian School for inspiration, many of these essays being derivative,
in the style of Giovanni Battista Sammartini or Luigi Boccherini, both
of whom composed many such symphonies to this general model. The Italian
works however were often written for strings alone with continuo accompaniment,
whereas from the beginning, Mozart reinforced the sound picture with
first woodwind and then brass and timpani.
Symphony No.1, is traditionally considered to be the
one in E Flat major K. 16. It was written by the composer when he was
staying in London at the age of 8 years old. His father was on his sickbed
with a serious throat ailment and due to his condition he forbade any
piano playing in the family’s rooms. Mozart, to fend off the boredom,
sat down and wrote this symphony: 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings with
bassoon and harpsichord continuo. His cavalier attitude which was well
portrayed in the film "Amadeus" has him saying to his sister
whilst he composed "don’t forget to remind me to give the horn
something worthwhile to do!"
The early symphonies are all of interest, but of much
less worth than the later works. Some of the early symphonies have doubtful
provenance – e.g. No. 2, K.17 is probably by his father, Leopold, and
No. 3 K. 18 is by Carl Friedrich Abel (his Op. 7. No. 6) who was J.
C. Bach’s concert-giving colleague in London.
Missing from this set is the Symphony in A minor K.
16a (known as the "Odense"), which caused a bit of a stir
a few years ago, but is now also thought to be by someone else, prime
candidates being from the Mannheim School.
No. 12 in G K. 110, sees the addition of 2 bassoons,
and now we are complete apart from the addition of clarinets in Nos.
39 and 40. Most symphonies beyond No. 1 are for the full Mozartian Orchestra.
The more mature symphonies are superbly played and
recorded, as good as any in the catalogue and I cannot imagine anyone
not being overjoyed with these performances played as well as they are
Repeats are used in most movements with, for example,
Symphony No 40 taking 33 minutes even with fairly brisk tempi throughout.
I remember my first recording of the Jupiter (Anthony Collins and the
Sinfonia of London) now released on Royal Classics. That took 22 ½ minutes!
The other famous symphonies (The Salzburg Symphonies)
were a favoured kind of work for the young composer. There were bands
of musicians keen to play such works. This gave him the opportunity
to consolidate and experiment with form and with different key structures.
The symphony was therefore a vehicle for the young composer to display
his growing skill. This musical form had not yet become the prime type
of composition - it was still in nascent form. Thus Mozart could experiment
and make significant contributions. One such is the Symphony No 29 in
A Major, K. 201. This is Mozart’s first symphony, which could carry
the description "Masterpiece," to stand beside others of the
type such as Nos. 35, 39 – 41.
Pinnock has the measure of these works and rarely puts
a foot wrong throughout. The orchestra follows him, wherever he wants
to go, and although I miss the sense of tremendous excitement of discovery
which you find with Sir Charles Mackerras with these works, Trevor Pinnock
is a sure guide.
There are competing sets available but none as convenient
as the current issue. One significant issue is the double boxed set
by Jaap ter Linden with the Akademie Amsterdam on Brilliant Classics,
reviewed recently. This set consists of two boxes, each containing single
jewel cases of 5 and 6 discs, available separately. It is cheaper than
the current set, and the interpretations are just as good. The recording
quality does not have the immediate bright sound of the Archiv so you
pays your money and you takes your choice, so to speak.
The current Archiv issue is extremely good value for
money, and I can’t see any purchaser being disappointed by the contents.