Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Menuhin conducts Mozart
Serenades – Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne (1990) [74:18]
Symphonies No. 35, No. 36 – Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne (1993) [48:58]
Symphonies No. 38, No. 39 – Sinfonia Varsovia (1989) [55:59]
Symphonies No. 40, No. 41 – Sinfonia Varsovia (1990) [57:39]
Wind Concertos – English Chamber Orchestra (1992) [75:29]
Opera Overtures - Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne (1997) [62:01]
rec. 1989-1997. DDD
full contents list at end of review
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6487942 [6 CDs: 74:18 + 48:58 + 55:59 + 57:39 + 75:29 + 62:01]

“One precocious musical genius sharing his favorite works by another precocious musical genius” – that’s how I’d describe this set of major orchestral works by Mozart, all with Sir Yehudi Menuhin conducting. It is a beautiful package drawing on the best of Mozart played in Menuhin’s gentle but firm style.

It is appropriate that the first CD contains serenades and related works. Serenades occupied a special place in Mozart’s musical time and place – Salzburg. These are long pieces, often over an hour, and composed to celebrate a person or event, such as the opening of a university term. Wolfgang’s father Leopold composed more than thirty serenades, but only one survives. The two short marches concluding this first CD are also appropriate in that marches usually book-ended serenades in Mozart’s time, to accompany the ensemble as it processed to and from the event.

The next three CDs contain Mozart’s most mature symphonies. Whereas the serenades were written when he was in his early 20s, these symphonies were written from ages 27 to 32, and the final three were all completed in a six-week frenzy. No.35 Haffner was written as a dedication to a friend, the No.36 Linz and No.38 Prague were first performed in those cities. No.41 Jupiter was so-named by the impresario J. P. Salomon (1746 – 1815). The early 20th century scholar Georges Poullain, Comte de Saint-Foix, enthused that the Jupiter “reveals all that music has achieved up to this time (1788) and what it will do nearly a hundred years later”.

While Mozart spent six months in Paris in 1778, he gave composition lessons to the daughter of Adrien-Louis Bonnières de Souastre, Comte de Guines. The father and daughter played flute and harp respectively, so Mozart wrote a concerto for the two. This K299 demonstrates his remarkable ability to write brilliantly for instruments with which he was unacquainted as a performer. In Mannheim, later that same year, this gift was further demonstrated in composition of the two flute concertos (K313, K314), commissions for a Dutch amateur musician, Ferdinand Dejean. The fifth CD in this set contains all three concertos, well played by The English Chamber Orchestra with soloists Samuel Coles, flute and Naoko Yoshina, harp.

Overtures for 12 of the 22 operas that Mozart wrote fill the final CD in this set. From Bastien und Bastienne, written when he was 12, to La clemenza di Tito, premiered in Prague the year he died, the choices here seem to have been based on popularity and familiarity. Sir Yehudi leads the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne in performances that are uniformly energetic and enjoyable.

There will never be another like Sir Yehudi Menuhin. His breadth of experience and interests remains unmatched. Born in New York City in 1916 to Byelorussian Jewish parents, he began violin instruction at 4, and performed with the San Francisco Symphony when he was 7. A student of Ysaÿe and Enescu, he performed under the baton of Bruno Walter in Berlin in 1929. He was influential in introducing yoga to Westerners through his sponsorship in 1952 of courses by B. S. K. Iyengar in London, Switzerland, Paris and elsewhere. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Menuhin made jazz recordings with Stéphane Grapelli, and Eastern music recordings with sitarist Ravi Shankar. He was also a successful teacher and writer, and was knighted in 1965. His performing and conducting relationship with EMI spanned seventy years, believed to be the longest recording contract ever. Lord Menuhin died in Berlin in March 1999.

He recorded these discs with three orchestras, but his time with the Sinfonia Varsovia was special. In 1984, Menuhin was invited to Poland to perform with the Polish Chamber Orchestra. The ensemble’s forces were expanded with some of Poland’s finest musicians. After both critical and audience success, Menuhin expressed his desire to continue working with the group, and so the Sinfonia Varsovia was formed and has performed and recorded continually since. It, and the Lausanne and English Chamber Orchestras, respond extremely well to Mozart’s music and to Menuhin’s unflashy but sincere leadership.

Yehudi Menuhin’s relatively sedate conducting style is evident when one compares his recordings to those of his contemporaries. A specific point of comparison is his final two Mozart symphonies (disk 4 on this set, recorded in 1990 with Sinfonia Varsovia) compared to the same two pieces on the 1986 recording by the Prague Chamber Orchestra under Charles Mackerras. Both are so-called “Mozart orchestras” operating 300 km. apart. Menuhin’s tempi, especially in the Menuetto third movements are stately, while Mackerras’ sound appropriately bouncy; yet still much slower than the pace that Hummel and Czerny insisted upon when conducting them. On the other hand, Menuhin does not play the repeats where most of his contemporaries include them.

A truly unique musician and human being conducting the works of a truly unique composer. This set stands as a superb introduction to the most enjoyable of orchestral Mozart.

Paul Kennedy

A truly unique musician and human being conducting the works of a truly unique composer, this set stands as a superb introduction to the most enjoyable of orchestral Mozart.

Full contents list

CD 1
Divertimento in D major KV 136 (1772) [12:40]; Serenade in D major Serenata notturna KV239 (1776) [12:15]; Serenade in D major Posthorn KV 320 (1779) [43:35] (with Crispian Steele-Perkins); Two Marches KV 335 (1780) [5:42]
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Yehudi Menuhin
rec. 1990
CD 2
Symphony No. 35 in D major Haffner KV385 (1783) [19:04]; Symphony No. 36 in C major Linz KV 425 (1783) [29:10]
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Yehudi Menuhin
rec. 1993
CD 3
Symphony No. 38 in D major Prague KV 504 (1786) [29:51]; Symphony No. 39 in E flat major KV 543 (1788) [26:05]
Sinfonia Varsovia/Yehudi Menuhin
rec. 1989
CD 4
Symphony No. 40 in G minor KV 550 (1788) [25:20]; Symphony No. 41 in C major Jupiter KV 551 [32:15]
Sinfonia Varsovia/Yehudi Menuhin
CD 5
Flute and harp Concerto in C major KV 299 (1778) [31:07]; Flute Concerto No. 1 KV 313 (1778) [25:02]; Flute Concerto No. 2 KV 314 (1778) [20:15]
Samuel Coles (flute), Naoko Yoshina (harp)
English Chamber Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin
rec. 1992
CD 6
Overtures: Le nozze di Figaro (1786) [4:20]; Cosi fan tutte (1790) [4:31]; La finta giardiniera (1775) [5:09]; Der Schauspieldirektor (1786) [4:28]; Idomeneo (1781) [4:53]; Die Zauberflöte (1791) [6:54]; Il re pastore (1775) [3:28]; Lucio Silla (1772) [8:34]; La clemenza di Tito (1791) [4:36]; Don Giovanni (1787) [6:12]; Bastien und Bastienne (1768) [1:52]; Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (1782) [5:58]
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Yehudi Menuhin