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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K385 (1782), Haffner [18:14]
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 (1786), Prague [34:52]
Danish National Chamber Orchestra/Adam Fischer
rec. DR Koncerthuset Studio 2, Copenhagen, February, April and August 2012
(Symphonies Vol. 10)
DACAPO 6.220545 [53:05]

Adam Fischer gives as fine a chamber orchestra performance of the Haffner symphony as you’ll hear anywhere. From the loud attacking tutti opening phrase (tr. 1) Fischer shows plenty of bite. This remains crisp, never heavy, while the first violins’ soft response is all beguiling smoothness. Their semiquaver runs are a stimulating flutter as Fischer well balances virtuosity and elegance. The sforzandi are clearly marked yet never oppressive. You also appreciate the interludes of respite such as the violins’ brief sequence of becalming descents from 1:14 and the musing moments between strings and woodwind from 3:02. Fischer shows the benefit of having a small body of strings in delicate runs and even more so in the violins’ descents.
 
Fischer’s slow movement is all elegance and warmth with fine-tuned application of sforzandi, for example at 0:04. Often this effect is marred by excessive jabbing. Not here. Enjoy the finesse of the second theme (0:48), the gliding first violins and overall flow, the illuminating slight leaning on the apex of the final phrase of the exposition. The second half ‘development’ (3:35) is one of those lovely Mozart passages where nothing is happening but all is contentment. It is treated by Fischer appropriately as a little interlude the relaxed, shimmering trills of which made me think of those in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. I only regret Fischer not repeating this second half. Given that he repeats the first half, the movement is then unevenly balanced.
 
Fischer’s Minuet is all assertive first phrases followed by smilingly coy second ones. The first ‘Let’s get on with it’, the second ‘No, let’s linger awhile’. You might think this effect would wear thin but through Fischer’s poised treatment it doesn’t. The Trio is more rustic, with a touch of jocularity in its swing. Fischer obtains further contrast by the use of solo strings in the second section. In the finale the contrasts involve a furtive start then a festive eruption. There’s plenty of pace, though a little more nonchalant second theme (0:31), and you admire the dexterity of the orchestra and also of Mozart.
 
I compared the Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras (Linn CKD350) recorded in 2009. His tuttis are heavier and overall the approach is more weighty. If you want the work to have a greater sense of splendour and grandeur you’ll find Mackerras more satisfying, but I’m quite happy with Fischer’s brightness and fresh precision. In the slow movement Mackerras achieves a balmy flow but his sforzandi are still heavier than Fischer’s while his ‘development’ is more overtly expressive, more operatic if you like. Mackerras does have the advantage in making the second half repeat. Fischer’s contrasting in the Minuet is more subtle, with a nicely judged, slightly dragging effect in the violins’ responding phrases delaying the proceedings. In the finale Mackerras’s second theme is more contrasted in its neat pointing, but I prefer Fischer’s nonchalance amidst the general purposeful forward dash.
 
Energy is a key element in Fischer's Prague Symphony from its opening crash (tr. 5). That said, there's also a silky softness from the first violins in contrast as early as 0:25 and then in their sinuous chromatic descents. The stern, clamorous tuttis are subverted by the first violins’ quiet, persevering spidery ascents. Both elements of Mozart's armoury remain clear. I like the rasping timpani, period instrument style, as the introduction progresses, often too soft pedalled but not here. It contrasts neatly with the softly, even cagily rising first violins. There's a comparable stealth about the opening of the Allegro. The contrast now is from soft to loud as the first theme evolves, lurking in the second violins and violas before the tutti’s dancing outburst of festivity. The violins are ultimately allowed to enjoy a gallop rhythm, executed here with gleeful daintiness. Fischer brings to the second theme (4:17) a relaxed, sultry gliding but also a sense of gratitude allied to an appreciation of the evanescence of this period of contentment. A magnificent loud entry and descent by the horns at 4:58, clean and clear, gives a real boost to the tail of the exposition. The development (8:27) features first and second violins in interplay, sparkling and gleaming. Through achieving transparency of texture Fischer shows the orchestra as a whole is also engaged in a steely musical argument which is nevertheless also a matter of excited projection.

I compared Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Prague Chamber Orchestra in 1986 (Telarc CD-80148). In his introduction the first violins’ ascents are sweeter, less subversive and the timpani have less bite though the tuttis have greater grandeur. The violins’ gallop is more slick and Mackerras favours excitement over energy while Fischer balances both. Mackerras’ second theme is less contrasted than Fischer’s, a relief in texture rather than mood. Mackerras, with a faster tempo (16:11 against Fischer’s 17:16), achieves increased drama in a development which has immediate and superior sweep and turbulence.
 
To the slow movement (tr. 6) Fischer brings an element of dreaminess, but more smoothness and tranquillity. It’s presented as an active, measured exploration. Its inclination is to a state of quiet assurance, with really soft dynamic contrasts, in response to the periods of disquiet which emerge from the loud entry at its second phase (0:50). So the mood is constantly ambivalent: the stable and gracefully refined meeting something which has more of realism and foreboding. On first hearing I thought Fischer gave it too much head and too little heart but on later listening I appreciated his calm, lucid texture and logical delivery. Certainly Fischer views it more as a musical than a dramatic working out. Mackerras goes for a smoother approach overall with a more beautiful effect but soft pedalling the contrasts and thus emphasizing the warm, make-believe elements. Even in the development, where the demons have to emerge more clearly, Mackerras refines their starkness.
 
Fischer’s finale (tr.7) is busy, neat and vivacious. Light on its toes, it also has bite. The wit of its musical argument, the exchange and imitation between instruments, is explicit. The bubbly second theme (0:39) contributes to the overall merry effect and the light tracery of the first violins’ quaver-runs at the end of the exposition is also enjoyable. In the development (3:05) the tutti splashes are suitably more raucous and the syncopation in the first violins, flutes and oboes’ presentation of the variation of the opening theme strides boldly across the scene. Mackerras’s finale is fittingly bustling but again he favours a smoother overall effect. His second theme is less contrasted than Fischer’s though his development is just as striking.
 
To sum up, what impresses me about Fischer is that he uses his chamber forces to bring a fresh perspective on these Mozart symphonies. In this he demonstrates a gain in clarity of texture and argument without any loss of impact. 

Michael Greenhalgh

Masterwork Index: Mozart Symphony 35 ~~ Symphony 38


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