The first sounds we hear - the grand, imposing opening chords
of the E flat symphony - land us unmistakably in the world of
big-orchestra Mozart. This is the way the music was usually
played before the period-practice movement took it over. The
performance style embodies a "vertical" musical aesthetic, drawing
expression from tonal mass and harmonic weight, rather than
generating momentum and tension "horizontally," through the
counterpoint, in the more recent fashion. There isn't a really
active, chamber-music interplay among the various musical strands,
but nothing of importance actually goes unheard.
Nor are these stodgy readings by any means. Otmar Suitner's
mobile tempi are well chosen even if the fast outer movements
sometimes try to creep ahead. The shapely phrasing, particularly
in the flowing slow movements, is a pleasure. His attention
to the music's cantabile impulse makes his renderings
more immediately accessible than the monumental Klemperer accounts
(EMI GROC, a 3-CD set), while his lively rhythmic sense avoids
Josef Krips' squareness (Philips).
Both the performance and the recording of the E flat symphony
take in a number of exceptionable details. The climaxes have
sounded brighter and more festive elsewhere; here the trumpets'
brighter overtones are subsumed in the large, string-based sonority
and the deep recorded ambience. The basses tend to lumber, or
to straggle behind the main beat; their landing at the first
movement recapitulation (5:41) is soggy. The grace notes in
the Menuetto are flicked before the beat, the old-fashioned
way, rather than played on the beat and accented; the horn phrase
in one of the Trio repeats suffers a clumsy ritard. The
Finale is shorn of both repeats, losing the "surprise"
at the end of the B section. Still, the themes mostly breathe
naturally, and the piece goes pleasantly enough.
The other two symphonies sound like the product of a different
microphone setup. There's still an impression of "deep" hall
space, but the orchestral image is more forward. Within this
framework, the winds, perhaps assisted by an extra section mike,
register more prominently - almost overbearingly so at higher
playback levels - against the large string section. The playing,
too, is a bit spiffier, with alert rhythmic address and neatly
tapered phrasing; the basses sound more trim, less diffuse.
Suitner's handling of these scores is, once again, fleet and
vigorous, which suits the agitated drama of the G minor symphony
well. In the Jupiter, the tempi and the sonority sometimes
at odds. The Andante cantabile sounds thicker than it
needs to, and the Menuetto, while musically guided, is
oddly muscular. The Finale's whirl of fugal activity,
however, is dazzling.
The lightweight, cardboard-based packaging, embedding a plastic
tray for the disc, neither includes a booklet nor allows space
for one, suggesting that the "Schätze der Klassik"
series, of which this is part, is a bare-bones reissue line.
Berlin Classics doesn't supply recording dates and venues, but
the fine print includes original publication dates of 1974 for
the Jupiter and 1976 for the other two symphonies, along
with a SPARS code of ADD.
Stephen Francis Vasta