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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 28 in C major, K2001 (1774) [16:05]
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K2012 (1774) [17:44]
Symphony No. 34 in C major, K3383 (1780) [18:45]
Symphony No. 32 in G major, K3184 (1779) [9:44]
Serenata Notturna in D major, K2395 (1776) [13:07]
5Hugh Maguire, Neville Marriner (violins); Simon Streatfield (viola); Stuart Knussen (double-bass); 1-3Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 4-5London Symphony Orchestra/Peter Maag
rec. mono: 1-3Victoria Hall, Geneva; 2October 1950, 1,3March 1951; stereo: 4Kingsway Hall, London, January 1959, 5Walthamstow Assembly Hall, December 1959. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 9692 [75:49]
Experience Classicsonline



 Symphony 28 isn’t one of Mozart’s best known. It’s serenade-like, with the violins having the lion’s share of the attention, sustained by the lower strings and spiced by sporadic colouring from oboes, horns and trumpets. It’s delightfully light-hearted. Peter Maag’s account is classy and intimate in scale. The first movement is all sunny and smiling from its opening notes of the common chord trimly played in descending order by everyone to the violins’ response in neat filigree work. It’s fresh without being smarmy. Veiled and muted violins in the slow movement are warm and homely. A repeated phrase at tr. 2 0:51 is sensitively tapered. The oboes and horns’ contributions are sensitively gauged. The development is more thoughtful but relatively unruffled. The Minuet contrasts well the opening assertiveness with the later relaxation ushered in by the horns. The Trio reverses the contrast, soft-loud-soft, with strings alone in more ornate style. The Presto finale begins with very delicate violins and sees them shining and shimmering by turns. The contrasting four quaver groups are loud then soft from tr. 4 0:43. You have to make allowances for the sound. The mono recording is very, you could say skeletally, clear but also so bright the loudest passages have a glassy, wiry quality. Even so, I found I got wrapped up in the performances. There are no repeats in the first two movements.

Symphony 29 is one of the best known of Mozart’s symphonies because of the masterly and organic way that it evolves. The first movement (tr. 5) theme begins in quiet, unassuming fashion but soon intensifies when repeated loudly. The lower strings imitate the upper at only a two beat distance. A demure second theme (0:49) grows bold (1:08) with oboes and horns finely balanced with the strings yet making real impact. The theme is lyrically expanded and transformed on strings (1:29) with the violins in imitation at a four beat distance. Maag’s rhythmic articulation is appreciable and the strings’ tremolos are stimulating. I compared another recording from 1950, that by the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Otto Klemperer (Urania URN 22153). Comparative timings are

Timings

I

II

III

IV

Total


Maag

5:10

5:43

2:59

3:45

17:44


Klemperer

8:28 (6:13)

5:31

3:31

3:49

21:19 (19:04)

 

Unlike Maag, Klemperer makes the exposition repeat in the first movement, so the bracketed timings are exactly comparative. Neither make the second half repeat nor repeats in the second and fourth movements. Klemperer with a larger orchestra presents the first theme more deliberately yet brings a more epic intensity to the tuttis, though the horns are too prominent. His second theme is more contrasted in its simplicity and its lyrical transformation is treated affectionately.

The slow movement (tr. 6) features winsome muted strings and again with Maag’s fine balance the inner string parts and woodwind contributions are clear. Here the themes come with their own variations of more rapid, dainty movement. The variation (1:29) on the second theme (0:43) is particularly appealing and is taken up by the oboe. Klemperer treats the opening themes more smoothly and the variations more pointedly. Maag lets them evolve freshly without such calculated shaping. Maag’s Minuet has an unassuming start for the violins but a firm tutti repeat. Its progress is articulated with verve. The Trio is by contrast more gracious with a pleasing flow which accommodates some louder moments as another kind of characterful variation. Klemperer is heavier with these and his Minuet is somewhat sluggish in its sturdiness. Maag’s finale (tr. 8) is admirably crisp at a tempo which enables the descending strings’ figures to be cleanly articulated. This makes the clucking second theme featuring appoggiaturas (0:41) a mite circumspect. Klemperer brings greater vigour and strength at a more formal, measured delivery. His second theme is even more laboured. Both feature exuberant-cum-dodgy horn playing. For a glorious account of this aspect you have to wait for the 1954 Klemperer with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Testament SBT 1093) which is also more lightly articulated and has a twinkling second theme.

Symphony 34 was probably intended for a large orchestra though there aren’t as many wind parts as in Symphony 32. Maag conveys the first movement’s generation of energy well and makes the contrast for a second theme (tr. 9 1:07) of relaxed grace and charm. The sforzandi just after the beginning of the development (3:06) really need more weight. The gauzy delicacy of the violins’ effects from 3:31 is deliciously realized. The slow movement spotlighting the strings and featuring divided violas has a purposeful flow which gives sinew to its floridity and finesse. The dynamic contrasts and phrasing which give it a pointed emphasis are well observed. While appreciating Maag’s scrupulous detailing of the string texture, I felt the second violins might have been given a shade less prominence in relation to the first violins. The animated finale, though without repeats, is breezily carried off. Maag maintains its pep without ever scrambling.

Undoubtedly for large orchestra the dramatic Symphony 32 (tr. 12) finds Maag with the London Symphony Orchestra, both on fine form in stereo in 1959. A swashbuckling Allegro spiritoso start is followed by a smiling second theme (0:57). This is daintier and relaxed with a gentle backcloth of horns and violas before a terse Mannheim crescendo (from 1:24). There’s grace and wit in the quieter material and bracing high spirits in the boisterous. The work is in one continuous movement but its three clear sections are separately tracked. Maag treats luxuriantly the second, slow section (tr. 13) which intervenes where you’re expecting the recapitulation - all languorous leisurely contours. I can’t imagine an Andante being played this slow today. It’s more like an Adagio but it’s stylishly done and works well in this context. The final section (tr. 14), which is the Allegro spiritoso recapitulation makes for a dashing finish in both senses of the word. There’s a fuller Mannheim crescendo this time (from 0:48) and horns that sound as though they’ve just come in from the hunt. Very enjoyable. I compared the Berliner Philharmoniker/Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon 477 613-4) also recorded in 1959. Here are the comparative timings

Timings

Section 1

2

3

Total


Maag

3:07

4:41

1:55

9:44


Bohm

3:10

3:37

1:53

8:39

In the opening section the rhetorical flourishes of the demisemiquavers of Böhm’s strings’ are more waspish. He’s more imposing and with beefier brass but the effect is not as fresh as that secured by Maag. Maag is crisper but also has more fire, especially from 2:23 in the development. I say this even if Böhm’s second theme is sweeter. In the slow section Böhm offers a more orthodox Andante which is graceful and flowing. It’s also more pensive. If you can accept Maag’s slow motion it’s warmer. You can happily soak in it and not a detail of the scoring is missed. In the final section Maag’s sforzandi are more invigorating. He benefits from being fundamentally leaner in expression.

Finally on this CD, also in stereo, comes the Serenata Notturna, Mozart’s distinctive take on the concerto grosso. He uses a concertino of two violins, viola and double-bass and a ripieno of violins, violas, cellos and timpani. The concertino here is forward and immediate yet not obtrusively so. The result is that the music’s juxtaposition of intimate individual joy and more communal partying is agreeably revealed. Maag brings an enjoyable swing to the proceedings with a dancing pulse that is always clear. In the opening movement (tr. 15) the concertino is all elegance, at times echoed by the ripieno, at times contrasted by the latter’s confident and neat swagger. Equally delightful are the subtler effects like the soft thrumming timpani against ripieno strings’ pizzicato first heard at 1:49. The second movement is a Minuet which again mixes firmness and suavity. The concertino has the Trio all smiling and sunny. It also takes the lead in the busy Rondo finale (tr. 17). It has all to itself an episode of skittering jollity (0:48) and a second episode beginning as a solemn Handelian Adagio (1:36) but before long becoming a light, frothy Allegro. You can feel the enjoyment in the playing and this adds to your enjoyment in response.

In sum then, these performances abound with zest, wit and charm. On the downside the strident earlier recordings need some getting used to.

Michael Greenhalgh
 

           


 


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