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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Leopold MOZART (1719-1787)
Sinfonia in G major (Eisen C8) [12:28]
Berchtesgadener Musik: ‘Kindersinfonie’ (‘Toy Symphony’) [10:41]
Sinfonia in D major (Eisen D15) [14:08]
Sinfonia in A major (Eisen A1) [7:38]
Sinfonia in G major: ‘Neue Lambacher Sinfonie’ [24:03]
Toronto Chamber Orchestra/Kevin Mallon
rec. St Anne’s Church, Toronto, Canada, 5-7 February 2007
NAXOS 8.570499 [69:15]
Experience Classicsonline

The rehabilitation of Mozart père, as man, has been going on for some time. His presentation in many popular accounts of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus, as callously exploitative and autocratic, as embittered by jealousy of his son’s genius, has been at the very least tempered, if not entirely refuted, by modern scholarship. We are in a better position, now, to recognise why, at the time of his death, his friend Dominicus Hagenauer, Abbot of St Peter’s in Salzburg, should have written in his diary that “Leopold Mozart, who died today, was a man of much wit and wisdom, and would have been capable of good services to the state beyond those of music … He was born in Augsburg, spent most of his days in court service here, and yet had the misfortune always to be persecuted and was far less beloved here than in other great places of Europe”.

Leopold’s music awaits a full revaluation. Such as I have heard suggests a high level of competence - which need be no surprise at all - a responsiveness to the work of composers younger than himself, and an occasional capacity to rise to greater heights than the ‘merely’ competent. A year or two ago I was, for example, very favourably impressed by a recording of his oratorio Der Mensch, ein Gottesmörder (1753) in a performance conducted by Claudio Astronio. The recording was distributed with issue 215 of the Italian magazine Amadeus – aptly enough – as AM 215-2. That work showed a composer capable of writing sacred music of unforced dignity and emotional intimacy.
Here we have a sampling of his symphonic writing in crisp and idiomatic performances by the Naxos regular Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra. The CD is enhanced by the notes of Cliff Eisen, a leading authority on Leopold and editor of his work, who tells us that the symphonies belong to the years between the early 1740s and the early 1760s, though a few may date from the late 1760s or even the early 1770s.
The early Sinfonia in A major (Eisen A1) is scored for strings alone; its three movements are elegant and assured, structurally neat, though without any very great individuality. The Sinfonia in D major (Eisen D15), another work in three movements, adds two horns to the strings and the writing displays a more attentive ear to textural effect, with some unexpected touches and some attractive melodic invention. With the Sinfonia in G major (Eisen G8) we hear a work in four movements (allegro-andante-menuetto-allegro) which has often been wrongly attributed to Wolfgang. Eisen is surely right to suggest that this is one of Leopold’s later compositions, it being a sophisticated piece of work, interesting in terms both of structure and detail. The lengthiest work here, the Sinfonia in G major, was also attributed to Wolfgang for some years. All the documentary evidence argues for Mozart senior being the symphony’s composer, but it is easy to see how the error (perhaps a piece of “biographical-wishful-thinking” as Eisen puts it) was made, such is the quality of the work and its decidedly ‘modern’ manner. It’s a fine piece, notably in the lengthy andante with its attractive melodies and the stirring music of the closing allegro. A work such as this makes it clear why Leopold Mozart deserves to be taken seriously and why it is a cause for regret that we seem to have lost many of his compositions.
The ‘hook’ for the CD is the well known ‘Toy Symphony’ (so-called). There is no very convincing reason for thinking this to be, with any certainty, Leopold’s work. A number of manuscripts survive, with many variants (including the number of movements) and with attributions to several different composers. It isn’t, of course, in any sense a symphony – as Eisen suggests, it belongs rather to the genre of the Cassation. It is good fun and it gets a lively enough performance, but it isn’t the best reason for getting hold of this CD; a better reason is offered by the other symphonies which make up the bulk of the disc, which should be of interest to anyone with a taste for the eighteenth-century symphony and, of course, to any Mozartean not still in the grip of anti-Leopold sentiments.
Glyn Pursglove


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