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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K183 (1773)
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201 (1774)
Symphony No. 33 in B flat major, K319
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman
Rec November 1988 (No. 25), August 1987 (Nos. 29; 33), Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam
WARNER APEX 2564 61430 2 [74.56]


Mozart wrote three symphonies (K183, K200, K201) during 1773-4, and they represent a change in approach from the 'entertainment' music he had previously written under that title. Although his employer, the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg, was a poor judge of music, Mozart still continued to produce masterpieces for him, and the present symphony is an example of how the composer was writing very much for his own satisfaction. Henceforth his symphonies became vehicles for some of his most profound musical thoughts. Yet the instrumentation is by no means indulgent, since it was determined by the size of the standard Salzburg orchestra: two oboes, two horns and strings.

Therefore this compilation from Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra makes perfect artistic sense. It is all very nicely played and very tastefully shaped, but not everything comes off as well as it might. For example, Symphony No. 29 is the first item on the programme, and Mozart marked the opening movement Allegro moderato. Koopman plays it as an unequivocal Allegro, very much up-tempo. The music can take it, of course, but in truth there is more poetry in it than this performance finds. Likewise the second movement Andante has a somewhat matter-of-fact character in its phrasing, though here the tempo is not at issue. There is a vein of tenderness in, say, Karl Böhm’s performance (DG) that eludes Koopman, or perhaps he does not seek it. The remaining movements are direct and make their virtuoso point, with thrilling horns towards the end of the finale.

Symphony No. 33 comes next, and Koopman makes a compelling statement at the opening balancing this against the lyrical phrases and the consequent lively symphonic development. For this is a compelling performance; perhaps the music suits these performers better. Again tempi are lively, but this time Mozart asks for Allegro assai (and gets it). There is some particularly sensitive string playing in the second movement. These are gut strings, of course, but they sound just right as the music swells through the opening expressive phrases. The minuet is crisply articulated, the finale driven buoyantly, to complete this enjoyable performance.

Symphony No. 25 concludes the programme, and in many respects this ‘Sturm und Drang’ piece suits Koopman best of all. Perhaps a little more weight or body of violin sound would have brought a more pleasing sonority, though some would argue that pleasing sonority was not on Mozart’s agenda here. Certainly the music drives along at Allegro con brio with an intensity that anticipates Beethoven, and the horn players in particular acquit themselves with distinction. The string sound issue is at its height in slower music, of course, when the quality of sound is paramount. The Andante does put this issue on the agenda, and perhaps the tempo is a little driven, the stabbing figures missing a little of their intensity. But the playing is undoubtedly of a high order and offers compensations to match. The finale sounds for all the world like one of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang pieces, which Mozart may or may not have known, though he knew the style well enough. The finale builds considerable momentum, but with subtle nuances of phrase and gesture. This symphony is one of the great achievements of Mozart’s early maturity.

Terry Barfoot


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