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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) CD 1
Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201* (1774) [25:16]
Symphony No. 38 in D, K. 504# (Prague) (1786) [25:53]
Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K. 543+ (1788) [27:36]
CD 2

Symphony No. 35 in D, K. 385 (Haffner) (1782) [18:17]
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550+ (1788) [26:56]
Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551# (Jupiter) (1788) [30:01]
Philharmonia Orchestra, *New Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
rec. Kingsway Hall, +July 1956, #March 1962; Abbey Road Studios, October 1960, *September 1965
[79:00 + 75:29]
Experience Classicsonline


Look carefully - these aren't quite the last six symphonies. The lyrical A major symphony replaces the Linz, and that's no cause for complaint: it's a fine piece of musical craftsmanship, and a nice change of pace. That symphony's first movement also offers a good indication of whether these performances will be for you. The tempo is distinctly measured - though there's ample forward motion - and the orchestral sound is big-boned. In the development, one becomes unusually aware of bass lines when they're carrying the movement's principal motifs. They're properly felt as full-fledged counterpoint, rather than playing a merely supportive role. The other three movements adhere to more conventional conceptions. The finale, while hardly rushed, is as rollicking as anyone else's. 

That basically sums up the set. Listeners accustomed to hearing the winds at parity with the strings, in the manner of the early-music fraternity - or, for that matter, Szell (Sony) - may find the orchestral sound heavy and string-dominated. But Klemperer takes care that important material in the winds emerges clearly - probably via simple dynamic adjustments rather than old-fashioned doublings. His practice of subordinating sustained wind harmonies to the strings' busy work seems logical and correct in any case. Actually, the textures sound richer and more active than in some "historical" accounts. The aforementioned weighty, strongly directional bass lines contribute to that impression; so do the second violins, registering prominently from their position at the conductor's right, as Klemperer preferred. 

It's worth noting that, notwithstanding the prevailing breadth - and the conductor's reputation! - the tempi as such aren't particularly slow. Krips (Philips), for example, is certainly no faster in the opening movements of the Prague and the Haffner. Klemperer's slow movements sing, for all their rigor - his minuets are spacious and sure-footed. Throughout the set, one encounters piano passages that conjure a delicate, magical hush. And, at his best, the conductor offers distinctive insights. The G minor's opening movement, sometimes played for a slick turbulence, here emerges in rueful, elegiac tones; a hint of monumentality only enhances the grandeur of the Jupiter. 

There are a few moments of creaky control, the sort of thing that sometimes crept into Klemperer performances. Here and there, momentum flags for no obvious reason - not so surprising in the comparatively propulsive outer movements, but it also occurs at the repeated bassoon notes at 7:58 in the E-flat symphony's Andante con moto, though it didn't happen the previous time around nor, for that matter, in the immediately preceding phrase! And, in the first movement of the Haffner, the nervous woodwind scale at 1:38 doesn't quite dovetail with the next downbeat, though analogous passages later on are fine. Small, passing flaws, perhaps, but digital mastering magnifies their presence somewhat, and they'll bother some people. 

I suspect that the mixing board has contributed some instrumental spotlighting: even within a forward sonic frame, some of the woodwind soli seem inordinately front-and-center. Otherwise, everything sounds good enough, though a touch of graininess betrays the recordings' age. 

This collection is a worthwhile, even necessary counterweight to the lighter, chamber-scaled performances more recently in favor. To return to the A major - among my favorite Mozart, in case you'd not guessed - if you supplement Klemperer's recording with Britten's (in a "Double Decca" bargain set) or Kertész's (also Decca, possibly in digital limbo), you'll be pretty much set.

Stephen Francis Vasta


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