Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Symphony No.32 in G, K318 (1779) [8:56]
Symphony No.35 in D, K385 ‘Haffner’ (1782) [22:49]
Symphony No.36 in C, K425 ‘Linz’ (1783) [37:06]
Symphony No.39 in E-flat, K543 (1788) [28:06]
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 ‘Jupiter’ (1788) [34:01]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
rec. Glasgow City Hall, June 1987 (CD1); Govan Town Hall, Glasgow,
UK, June 1990 (CD2) DDD.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0963702 [68:58 + 62:07]
These performances have been round the block several
times, separately and together, but they are none the worse
for that, especially now that the 2-CD set is offered at a very
attractive super-budget price, typically around £8 in
the UK (AmazonUK is offering it for less than £5 at time
of writing). Don’t even dream of downloading: it will
probably cost you more - I’ve even seen it on offer in
mp3 for £15.99! It’s one of the vagaries of the
recording industry that their previous incarnation was also
on one of Virgin’s very inexpensive twofers. The new reissue
is most likely to appeal to Mozart novices, but seasoned collectors
with some or all of these works already in their collections
could benefit from adding this inexpensive set.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra doesn’t play on period
instruments, nor had I thought of Jukka-Pekka Saraste as a Mozartian
par excellence, but there’s a great deal more to authenticity
than that. What emerges from the partnership is a combination
of period-informed practice that never becomes fanatic: just
the kind of compromise, in fact, that one associates in this
repertoire with the late and much-missed Charles Mackerras.
There is, indeed, a great deal in common between these performances
and the more recent recordings which Mackerras set down for
Linn, also with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Nos. 38-41 are
on Linn CKD308 - Recording of the Month: see review
- and Nos. 29, 31, 32, 35 and 36 on Linn CKD350 - see review.
I liked these recordings very much when I reviewed them in the
2009 and April
2010 Download Roundups respectively: the second featured
as Recording of the Month. Alas, the third recording that I
had hoped for was not to be, but Mackerras’s earlier versions
of the complete Mozart symphonies on Telarc, available separately,
fill the gap. Mackerras is a little faster in general, but there’s
absolutely no lack of liveliness and energy from Saraste.
Both Saraste and Mackerras have, for instance, the sense of
style that Bruno Walter captured in his late-1950s, early-1960s
CBS recordings of the last six symphonies - formerly available
on three LPs and more recently on a 2-CD set which Sony really
ought to reissue. (M2YK45676 -snap it up if you see a decent
second-hand copy)*. What Saraste and Mackerras also offer is
a greater sense of lightness, though I don’t wish to imply
that Walter sounds heavy or slow.
In the first movements Walter often omits repeats, making comparisons
difficult, but the Menuetto of his No.35 is only three
seconds slower than Saraste’s and the finale exactly the
same length (4:04). Only in No.41 did I think that Walter’s
omission of repeats made the work sound a little less Jupiter-like
than it ought. Language is insufficient to convey the enjoyment
that I still derive from Walter, from whom I got to know the
Haffner and Jupiter, and the subtlety of the difference
between him and the two later interpreters. To say that I enjoy
all three is not intended as a cop-out. It’s not just
nostalgia and the fact that I owned the LPs that takes me back
The slow opening of Saraste’s No.39 is as weighty as anything
that I’ve heard, including Walter and Mackerras, so he
and the SCO can certainly do ‘big’ Mozart when it’s
appropriate. He observes more repeats than Walter in this movement,
as in the Jupiter, thereby preventing the emphasis from
shifting to the andante con moto second movement: Walter
makes the two movements almost exactly equal in length. Saraste
and Mackerras also pay more attention than Walter to the con
moto part of the tempo indication: the CBS notes give the
tempo as merely andante, so perhaps Walter was working
from a different edition. Saraste and Mackerras clock in at
slightly over eight minutes for this movement, Walter at 9:11,
yet all three tempi sound perfectly right in context.
More to the point, Saraste and the SCO, in common with the other
two, really sound as if they love the music. Though he adopts
a fast speed for the finale of No.39, it never sounds dutiful
or perfunctory and the observation of repeats gives the movement
its due weight - more than a minute longer than Walter (5:28
against 4:05). Mackerras gives the movement even greater weight
at 7:49, which might look like too much of a good thing were
it not for the lightness and grace which he imparts.
Though Saraste gives power to the first movement of the Jupiter
by observing more repeats than Walter, his skipping tempo never
allows it to sound pompous. For all that I grumble (below) about
the paucity of notes with the Virgin reissue, their description
of the ‘ineffable grandeur and forward momentum’
of this symphony is spot on - and it perfectly describes Saraste’s
recording of the work. All three conductors observe both parts
of the andante cantabile direction for the second movement:
here, if anything, Walter gives a slight degree more cantabile
lift to the music than Saraste or Mackerras: is the latter just
slightly too weighty at a minute longer than Walter or Saraste?
Perhaps, but the way that he caresses the music more than atones.
The presence of Mike Hatch (CD1) and Mike Clements (CD2) as
balance engineers effectively guarantees sound quality that
can still hold its own against more recent releases. Linn’s
Mackerras recordings are available in SACD format, or as better-than-CD
24-bit downloads, thereby increasing their appeal to hi-fi enthusiasts.
I was very happy with the 16-bit CD-quality (WMA) downloads
when I reviewed them. Both Linn sets are offered at less than
full price, effectively 2-for-1.
The notes are skimpy, as usual with these Virgin super-budget
twofers. If Naxos and Hyperion, especially the latter, can offer
booklets with detailed and informative notes in this price-range,
why can Virgin not do the same? I’ve said that these recordings
are likely to appeal mostly to beginners - and they are the
very people who need the notes. Even the HMV Concert Classics
recording with André Vandernoot - then one of the least
expensive labels - from which I got to know No.39 had a useful
sleeve-note. Later, the even cheaper Saga and Fontana LPs (10/-
[50p] and 12/6 [63p] respectively) managed to include quite
detailed sleeve-notes. We reviewers tend to whack on about this,
but newcomers to classical music do need some help.
I would still name the two Mackerras sets in one form or another
as my first choice and I certainly hope that the Walter stereo
recording will be reissued at a budget price, but there’s
very little to choose overall and the Saraste reissue is too
tempting a bargain to resist.
* Arkiv have a 3-CD set with the stereo versions of Nos.35 and
38-41 but with the earlier mono No.36 and rehearsals (46511).