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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K.543 (1788) [25.23]
Symphony No. 40 in G min, K.550 (1788) [25.21]
Symphony No. 41 in C flat, K.551 Jupiter (1788) [28.56]
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand.
rec. Musikhalle, Hamburg, Germany, 6-8 May 1990, (KK543; 551); March 1994 (K550). DDD
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 65842-2 [72’16"]

 

This disc represents one of the bright occurrences in today’s record industry: re-packaging of fairly new recordings in revised couplings, usually enhancing the content and being released at a lower price.

On this trio of Mozart Symphonies, K543 and K.551 used to share a full priced disc with no extra items. K.550 shared a full-priced disc with Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, again at full price. RCA have now decided to release all three on a single disc at mid-price. In this format, the disc makes for exceptional value for money. My only concern about this policy (operated by nearly all of the record companies) is that when there is an absolute goldmine of completely un-issued material in their respective vaults, why persist in re-cycling material that many collectors will already have in their previous reincarnations.

Having said that, if you are one of the many collectors who abhor the period performance Mafia, this release, I am sure will be absolute heaven. Tempi are not slow, but neither are they tearaway. The playing of Wand’s own orchestra is so good that it is almost indistinguishable from the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra he had also done work with towards the end of his career.

To anyone who attended the miraculous Promenade concert given by these forces in 2001 performing Schubert 8 and Bruckner 9, the standard of performance will be immediately apparent. This was Wand’s last appearance at the Proms and was very memorable.

The blending of the various sections of the orchestra is beyond criticism and the commitment of the players to their conductor is clearly audible. There is also a delicacy in the playing which I find very enticing (try the 3rd and 4th movements of K.550, for example). The RCA engineers have captured these performances on the wing. Although they share similar recording dates, the earlier issue of K.550 was described as "live" but the present re-coupling does not say whether these are live performances. As most of Wand’s recorded work at this time was from live events, I think it is safe to assume that these are likewise. However there is absolutely no aural evidence of this.

Wand has been very well received in Bruckner and Schubert with complete recorded cycles of these two composers’ symphonies. We know that he did not record a Mozart cycle, which is perhaps a shame, but this disc of the late and greatest of them. It well merits occupying a similar place in our affections as the earlier complete cycles. I don’t know of a disc with these works that I would want in preference to this.

The only collectors likely to frown on these performances are those who espouse period styles of playing. I happen to belong to that group of totally misguided people who hold the belief that if the early composers had had the availability of our modern instrument orchestras and also of the size we are now used to, they would have been perfectly happy to hear their works played like this.

Maybe I am misguided, but luckily I know that many share my views, and with this disc they will, I am sure, be wonderfully satisfied. Very highly recommended for performances, recording and price.


John Phillips



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