Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 Prague (1786) [38:14]
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K543 (1788) [29:59]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, September 1981 (K504) and June 1984 (K543)
WARNER APEX 2564 67302-4 [68:28]

These recordings have been reissued before on Teldec and now return here on Warner’s super-budget label. For anyone familiar with Harnoncourt’s way with Mozart, these performances will come as no surprise. They are big orchestra accounts that bring out the drama in the music and even some romanticism. Harnoncourt slashes away with aggressive accents and erratic tempos. The minuet in K543 is even laughable being taken at such a fast tempo that it requires the conductor to slow down for the trio. Moreover, Harnoncourt slows way down, so that one is jolted when he returns to the same fast tempo on the reprise of the minuet. He does something similar in his later account of the Symphony No. 40 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, though overall those recordings are more successful than the earlier ones he made with the Concertgebouw. Of the two symphonies presented here, the Prague is better than No. 39. Still, with the conductor insisting on taking all the repeats, that work is stretched to an amazing 38 minutes! This seems to be the current practice, especially among the historically informed crowd. Sir Charles Mackerras, for example, in his award-winning series of symphonies on Linn with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, also takes all of the repeats. Yet, his accounts have a lightness and buoyancy lacking in the Harnoncourt performances. One doesn’t mind the repeats when the symphonies are played with so much joy, while Harnoncourt in comparison seems relentless. If you do not particularly care that every repeat is taken and prefer a warmer orchestral sound, then Sir Neville Marriner with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Philips can still be recommended. For the same cost as the present disc, you can get the No. 35 as well as these two symphonies in performances that have well stood the test of time. Another favorite “oldie” of mine of the Symphony No. 39 is George Szell’s with the Cleveland Orchestra on Sony, though it is beginning to show its age. I now find his minuet on the heavy side, having become used to the faster tempos taken nowadays.

As it is, I can commend the disc under review only to diehard Harnoncourt fans who want everything this great, but sometimes erratic, conductor has produced. As usual with Apex, there are no notes on the works or performances — just the same listing of the pieces with timings in both the insert and on the back of the jewel case.

Leslie Wright

This disc is for diehard Harnoncourt fans only.