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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
(a) Symphony No 38 in D major K504 'Prague' [23:26] (b) Flute Concerto No 2 in D major K314 [19:12] (c) Motet 'Exultate, jubilate' K165 [14:54] (d) Serenade in B flat major K361 'Gran Partita' [38:03]
Leopold MOZART (1719-1787) (e) Trumpet Concerto in D major [8:53]
André Pepin (flute) (b); Janine Micheau (soprano) (c); Michel Cuvit (trumpet) (e); L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (a,b,d,e); Paris Conservatoire Orchestra (c); Ernest Ansermet (conductor) (a-e)
rec. Radio Hall, Geneva July 1947 (a), Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, May 1948 (c), Victoria Hall, Geneva November 1957 (b), May 1955 (d), March 1968 (e)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0379 [57:54 + 47:06]

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Decca Eloquence are doing Ansermet proud in reissuing so many of his recordings. It's only just given the amount and quality of work that he undertook for Decca from after the War until his retirement in 1968. This covered a wide variety of music, not merely the French classics and Stravinsky for which he was probably best known at the time.

Listening to these discs now I regret having somewhat taken him for granted at the time and having taken the lazy view then that the great German classics were best left to the great German conductors. Just how wrong that view was became obvious when his Brahms recordings were recently reissued, and is emphasized by the present set. Admittedly where the Brahms recordings were clearly something very special, these Mozart recordings are at a somewhat lower level, but they are all worth hearing and do have something worthwhile to say about the music.

The performance of the Gran Partita is perhaps the pick of the set. It has an individuality and feeling of understated understanding of the music that is very winning. Admittedly the sounds of some of the instruments, especially the first oboe, takes a little getting used to - this is not the kind of almost organ-like sonority that some conductors favoured at that time, but this kind of disparate texture does help the listener to perceive the intricacies of the music. This is a wonderful work and this is a comfortably musical version that I suspect I will return to often in preference to more obviously showy accounts.

The timing given above for the 'Prague' Symphony - under 24 minutes - is not a typing error. Ansermet ignores the long repeat of the second half of the first movement which has become common for many conductors today, and elsewhere he only makes those repeats that are absolutely necessary. Whilst there is a very good general case for making all repeats requested by the composer this work does then seem very long with the first movement out of scale with the rest. What we get in those 24 minutes here is a clear headed and affectionate performance without obvious mannerisms but with a careful recognition of the changing character of the music. The recording is perhaps somewhat primitive compared with the rest of the programme but not to the extent of spoiling enjoyment.

The two Concertos are both well characterised, and it is good to hear a French flautist with such individual phrasing but without too excessive a vibrato. The rarity is the recording of the Motet which has not been issued previously. Janine Micheau was a delightful light soprano. She sings here with a very French lightness and forward quality. Maybe the first section is at times a little strained but the final Alleluia has real joy. Overall it is hard to understand why it was not issued earlier.

There is much to enjoy here, and even collectors who normally avoid Mozart performances from times before Historically Informed Performance became obligatory are likely to find pleasure in performances which often combine the lightness of HIP with something of the gravity of an older generation. My only complaint is about the playing time. Normally Eloquence have been able to find apt fillers to ensure a generous mix, but presumably this is the sum total of Ansermet's Mozart recordings. A pity, but the set is still worth having for the quality of what is there.

John Sheppard 
 


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