For those who don’t like reading long reviews, I can be
very succinct: this is a wonderful bargain. What is on offer
is the whole of Mozart’s symphonic output in period performances
which I believe will also appeal to those who like modern instruments,
directed by a renowned Mozart expert. The performances are very
well recorded and documented and the set is offered at an unbelievably
inexpensive price, 11 CDs for around £25 in the UK.
What goes around comes around, as the saying is. This set of Mozart symphonies was originally released ten years ago on Brilliant Classics as part of their complete Mozart edition. Volume 1 on five CDs was issued as 99730; it contained Symphonies Nos. 1, 4-6, 8-10, 12-17, 20-23 and 27-28 and 30, all recorded between August and December 2001 and it was reviewed by Kirk McElhearn, who summed up his reaction by writing:
All in all, this is another enviable volume in Brilliant Classics’ Mozart Edition. The overall sound of the orchestra is well contrived, and the texture produced by use of original instruments gives this music a sound much closer to the baroque than the romantic. At this bargain price, it is certainly worth having.
The remaining symphonies – CDs 6-11 as listed below – were recorded in the Spring of 2002, released on 99715 and reviewed by John Phillips who also gave it a very strong recommendation – see review.
Since then the collection has been re-divided into smaller bundles a number of times, reissued as a complete set which still seems to be available at a higher price (92110) – be careful which version you order – and it’s now available in complete form at a very attractive price, around £25 in the UK, thus removing John Phillips’ one reservation, that those who bought Volume 2 would also want its predecessor.
It would be foolish to pretend that Mozart’s earliest symphonies are minor masterpieces. Haydn may no longer be dubbed the creator of the symphony, but even his earliest efforts in that form are well worth hearing, whilst Mozart’s before No.25 are tuneful, enjoyable and highly competent but no match for early Haydn. That said, I heard the very early works on CD1, Nos.1, 4-6, ‘45’ and K19A in F, without any sense of listening fatigue, thanks largely to the expertise of the performances.
The former No.2, K17, is now believed to have been written by Mozart senior, Leopold, and No.3 is now known to have been composed by Carl Friedrich Abel – the excellent booklet of notes explains these matters, the recent discovery of K19A, and how No.45 (K45) came to be omitted from the catalogue because it was later rehashed as the Overture to la finta semplice. Such detailed notes are particularly welcome in a super-budget set – they are all too frequently absent in this price range and Brilliant Classics have put many of their big-name competitors to shame in that regard.
If you want to hear these two spurious works, they are included on a Naxos recording of Nos.1-5 performed by the Northern Chamber Orchestra under Nicholas Ward (8.550871) which I reviewed in download form in my January 2012/1 Download Roundup, together with Nos.6-10 (8.550872). I haven’t had time to explore the other recordings in that series but these first two volumes of stylish performances on modern instruments augur well. If you wanted to pick and choose without committing yourself to a complete set, they come at budget price on CD and as downloads from classicsonline.com, though you would soon find yourself paying more than for the Brilliant Classics box if you bought too many. What Naxos count as No.7 is the K45 work which Brilliant count as No.45.
I compared Ward and ter Linden in No.8. Ward is a little more sparing of repeats, thereby shortening the outer movements, which is no big deal in this music. Otherwise there’s little to choose between them. If you subscribe to the Naxos Music Library, you can try the Ward recordings there.
Also available via the Naxos Music Library are the currently available volumes of a projected series from Adám Fischer and the Danish Radio Sinfonietta. The earliest symphony currently available in that series is No.9, which appears in company with Nos.10, 11, 44 (K81), 45 (K95) and 47 (K97) on DaCapo 6.220538, another recording which I reviewed in the January 2012/1 Download Roundup. Fischer is a little more fleet of foot than ter Linden in this work; perhaps he’s a little too fast in the opening movement, where ter Linden is rather more stately, though I’d be hard put to choose one definitively over the other. Even as downloads at £7.99, you wouldn’t be able to collect too many of Fischer’s recordings without exceeding the price of the Brilliant box.
A third ongoing series comes from Roger Norrington with the South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra on Hänssler Classic, modern instruments again with a sense of period style. His version of No.1 is coupled with Nos.25 and 41, thus offering works from three different periods. I thought his version a little four-square by comparison with Ward on Naxos and ter Linden in the Brilliant box, but his is a dramatic account of No.25, with all repeats observed. I think there’s a good deal to be said for omitting those in the outer movements, but ter Linden also includes them all on CD6, making his recording of those movements even longer than Norrington’s.
If you find those outer movements of No.25 too long with the repeats, you might like to supplement the Brilliant box with a recording which omits them, such as that from Barry Wordsworth and Capella Istropolitana on Naxos 8.550113, coupled with Nos. 32 and 41. Putting aside the issue of repeats, all three do justice to what is usually and rightly regarded as the most important of Mozart’s earlier symphonies. Jaap ter Linden’s is by no means the least effective.
Instead of the Naxos recording, you may wish to supplement the Brilliant box with another recording of No.25 from a source which you may not immediately think of, Otto Klemperer. On his Vox recording he really tore into the work and he was still much faster than you might imagine in his much better recorded later Columbia recording, apparently no longer available on CD but as an EMI download from classicsonline.com or hmvdigital.com, coupled with Nos. 29 and 31. The recording still sounds well.
You may think that the later symphonies lend themselves less well to period performance, but that isn’t the case. I’m not about to jettison my treasured Bruno Walter performances of Nos. 35-36 and 38-41, the stereo set with the Columbia SO, currently available only in a 6-CD Sony box (0886979068322; * if you come across the 2-CD set, CBS M2YK45676, snap it up), which was my introduction to these works on LP – I even bought them at full price, something that I very rarely did as an impecunious undergraduate – but the performances in the Brilliant Box will also be regular listening fare. We even get two versions of No.40 – the original without clarinets (CD9) and the conventional version with (CD11).
I played ter Linden’s accounts of Nos. 35 (‘Haffner’) and 41, the ‘Jupiter’ immediately after Walter’s. The two are not strictly comparable because ter Linden takes all the repeats in the outer movements whereas Walter doesn’t, following what was then the norm: Beecham was even more sparing of repeats.
That’s not a problem with the Haffner, though it might make the new recording of the Jupiter seem ponderous, especially in the first movement, at 11:42 as against Walter’s 8:48. In fact I didn’t find that it outstayed its welcome at all; this allegro really is vivace – not too fast, but dancing along. I fell in love with Walter’s performance all over again, as I did all those years ago when I took home that LP with its beautiful cover picture of a miniature violin, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t also greatly enjoy the Brilliant recording.
Walter’s andante cantabile second movement is bliss – a friend had bought the Beecham recording on Fontana and I remember thinking him just a little too fast and unfeeling by comparison, something which can’t be said of ter Linden, who gives it its due weight. In the minuet, as in that of the Haffner, ter Linden and Beecham make Walter sound just a little too sedate – as the Brilliant notes observe, it has something of the feel of a Ländler. Also, while Walter’s recording has been made to sound very well on CD, the Brilliant recording naturally outshines it.
Hitherto my recommendation for a complete set of the Mozart symphonies has been Sir Charles Mackerras with the Prague Chamber Orchestra on Telarc 80729 (10 CDs for around £33, also available separately). For the later symphonies Mackerras’s later recordings with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Linn CKD350 (Nos.29, 31-32 and 35-36) and CKD308 (Nos.38-41) are indispensable. In both cases Mackerras employs a small modern-instrument orchestra but using period-instrument techniques.
If you must have period instruments – preferable, but not a matter that I would go to the stake for – the obvious competitor is Trevor Pinnock on DG Archiv (471 666-2, 11 CDs, around £33 in the UK – see review). I did some spot comparisons with his recordings, courtesy of Spotify, and concluded that there’s very little to choose between them. The opening movement of No.1 goes with a swing in both versions, Pinnock very slightly the faster. He gives a little more weight than ter Linden or Mackerras to the andante, which I think is rather to its benefit, and honours are about even in the finale. At the other end of the spectrum you may think Pinnock’s wonderful account of the slow movement of the Jupiter, also available singly with No.40, though only as a download from hmvdigital.com, puts to shame just about any other version that you have ever heard.
In the end personal taste will dictate your choice. If you can’t abide period instruments, though there’s nothing to object to from ter Linden, then Mackerras is your man. Period instruments honours are more or less even between the Brilliant Classics and DG Archiv sets and I see no reason to pay that little extra for the latter unless you are a particular devotee of Pinnock – and there are far worse things to be.
The Brilliant recording is excellent throughout. A hybrid SACD version of this set was released at one time as 92543 – Amazon.co.uk seem still to have a few of these for £56.36 as I write – and it’s a pity that Brilliant Classics have not chosen to offer that this time around. Still, at little more than £2 per disc, we must be grateful for what we have. The booklet of notes by Dr David Doughty is very informative – as well as the explanations which I’ve already mentioned it includes, for example, a comparison of the two versions of Symphony No.40 and opens with a potted history of the symphony before Mozart.
If you subscribe to the invaluable Naxos Music Library, you can check out this set there, complete with booklet. Don’t be tempted to click the classicsonline.com button and purchase their download, however – at £87.89 it’s more than three times the cost of the disc set.
CD 1 [67:20]
Symphony No.1 in E flat major K16 [12:35]
Symphony No.4 in D major K19 [9:12]
Symphony in F major K19a [11:10]
Symphony No.5 in B flat major K22 [6:11]
Symphony No.6 in F major K43 [16:24]
Symphony No.45 in D major K45 [11:02]
CD 2 [64:45]
Symphony No.8 in D major K48 [15:21]
Symphony No.9 in C major K73 [12:04]
Symphony No.10 in G major K74 [7:37]
Symphony No.12 in G major K110 [16:14]
Symphony No.13 in F major K112 [12:59]
CD 3 [63:44]
Symphony No.14 in A major K114 [20:24]
Symphony No.15 in G major K124 [14:17]
Symphony No.16 in C major K128 [14:00]
Symphony No.17 in G major K129 [14:40]
CD 4 [61:42]
Symphony No.20 in D major K133 [22:51]
Symphony No.21 in A major K134 [20:40]
Symphony No.22 in C major K162 [8:17]
Symphony No.23 in D major K181 [9:29]
CD 5 [62:54]
Symphony No.27 in G major K199 [17:36]
Symphony No.28 in C major K200 [24:44]
Symphony No.30 in D major K202 [20:19]
CD 6 [78:05]
Symphony in D major K111a (incorporating K111 and K120) [6:06]
Symphony No.18 in F major K130 [24:30]
Symphony No.19 in E flat major K132 [19:11]
Symphony No.25 in g minor K183 [27:51]
CD 7 [66:12]
Symphony No.24 in B flat major K182 [10:00]
Symphony No.26 in E flat major K184 [8:53]
Symphony in D major K196/121 [7:51]
Symphony No.29 in A major K201 [30:59]
Symphony No.32 in G major K318 [7:51]
CD 8 [63:59]
Symphony No.33 in B flat major K319 [24:03]
Symphony No.34 in C major K338 [20:26]
Symphony No.35 in D major K385 ‘Haffner’ [19:24]
CD 9 [77:43]
Symphony No.31 in D major K297 ‘Paris’ [18:12]
Symphony No.36 in C major K425 ‘Linz’ [31:03]
Symphony No.40 in g minor K550 - first version without clarinets [28:06]
CD 10 [65:13]
Symphony No.38 in D major K504 ‘Prague [33:24]
Symphony No.39 in E flat major K543 [31:39]
CD 11 [63:41]
Symphony No.40 in g minor K550 - second version with clarinets [28:04]
Symphony No.41 in C major K551 ‘Jupiter’ [35:22]