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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Late Symphonies

Symphony No. 31 in D major K297 Paris (1778)
Symphony No. 32 in G major K318 Overture in Italian Style (1779)
Symphony No. 33 in B flat major K319 (1779)
Symphony No. 34 in C major K338 (1780)
Symphony No. 35 in D major K385 Haffner (1782)
Symphony No. 36 in C major K425 Linz (1783)
Symphony No. 38 in D major K504 Prague (1786)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major K543 (1788)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor K550 (1778)
Symphony No. 41 in C major K551 Jupiter (1778)
Orchestra of Padova and Venice/Peter Maag
Recorded at the Auditoriums Modigliani and Pollini, Padova, 1996-97
ARTS 47650-2 [4 CDs 256.26]

Peter Maag remained something of a connoisseur’s conductor, with some of his recordings taking on almost talismanic status as examples of stylistically apt conducting; his famous Suisse Romande recordings of Mozart’s Symphonies Nos. 29 and 34 for example are back on Testament. But Arts seem to have released a sizeable chunk of Maag’s latter-day repertoire and this Mozart box is a sterling example of their commitment.

Maag favours clarity and contrast and he conjures some fascinating textures as a result. In the Paris Symphony in D major he observes splendid distinctions between forte and piano markings and orchestral crescendi whilst ensuring that the Andante is affectionately phrased with a proper balance between clarinets and horns. The antiphonal division of first and second violins is well realised in the concluding Allegro. Maag always finds time to phrase naturally (see the opening of No. 33) and to point slow movements at the climaxes. Listen additionally to the way in which his buoyancy of rhythm and aeration of texture never compromise the sense of direction or power of an Allegro – a perfect example of his gift for animation in this specific context is the last movement of the C major K338.

He adopts a good Beechamesque tempo for the Haffner, though he does add some little hesitancies in the opening movement, and sports an easeful Andante. Once more the Presto finale is a marvel of the natural unfolding of texture and sectional lines. I liked the yearning figures in the Linz and the natural gravity of the brass. The little known Orchestra of Padova and Venice responds with verve and precision to Maag’s lead, not least in a nicely galvanised finale full of the most eager and musical of dynamics. Even the sterner tests of the last Symphonies are met with aplomb. After rather a portentous opening to the Prague Maag unleashes fine and incisive hunting horns, elegance allied to legato lyricism. We can hear that the string section is smallish but it’s delightfully crisp whilst the winds are elegant and technically adroit. Maag doesn’t push the Allegro section of the first movement of the E flat major but he does conjure up a sense of passing unease in the slow movement whilst properly observing the con moto instruction. The rhythmic impetus behind the Menuetto is palpable but never explicit and my only disappointment here was the finale where a deadpan halting phrasing never quite convinces me.

It’s certainly instructive to listen to a master at work at the end of the G minor’s opening movement where he reveals the oft hidden strands of orchestration. And he brings lilt and a dancing articulation to the finale with a remarkable degree of clarity – that word again – that demonstrates not only the preparation that has clearly gone towards these performances but also the unusual degree of sheer articulacy that they reveal. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the inner part writing of the Jupiter is so exposed nor that the light and shade and sheer ebullience of the music is so convincingly assayed. In the slow movement Maag encourages some almost celestially veiled string tone, which he underscores in the ensuing Menuetto with a really pompous trot. The entry points in the finale, the counterpoint and playing out of thematic elements, are all splendidly realised.

Simply but attractively presented in a card slipcase this set houses performances by one of the undersung conductors of the century just passed. Even in repertoire as well trodden as this Maag’s ear for texture and balance pays rich and lasting rewards.

Jonathan Woolf



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