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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) 
Complete Symphonies
see end of review for listing 
English Chamber Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate
rec. 1984, Henry Wood Hall, London (CD 9), 1984, St Barnabas’ Church, Woodside Park, London (CD 12), 1985-1993, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (CDs 1-8, 10-11),
WARNER CLASSICS 9846382 [12 CDs: 800:51]

Complete cycles of Mozart’s symphonies are no rarity these days, and Jeffrey Tate’s recordings with the English Chamber Orchestra are generally acknowledged as being at or very near the top of the heap. The final two discs from this set appeared as part of EMI’s double fforte budget pairings and were reviewed here. If you don’t own a complete set, then you owe it to yourself to have one or other of the immensely rewarding and comforting bricks of brilliant music close to hand, but which one to choose?
Trevor Pinnock’s Archiv set (see review) counts as part of the ‘authentic performance’ category, but aside from the addition of harpsichord continuo these are still full, rich sounding recordings with plenty of verve and sparkle, as well as the intimate sensitivity you would want from those gorgeous slow movements. This set could take all the laurels, but against Tate’s modern instruments is perhaps not the fairest of comparisons, and it is more expensive. Jaap ter Linden on Brilliant classics (see review) competes on similar price grounds to this Tate reissue, but again is performed on early instruments. If you can find it by all means snap up a copy; it is really rather good, though perhaps not quite as peppy as Pinnock.
Of the modern orchestra versions one of the most remarkable bargains to appear in recent years has been that with the Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana on the Membran label (see review), which has much to recommend it given its price. In absolute terms it isn’t quite up to the standard of Tate or my other leading recommendations, but I’ve been back to remind myself of what it was all about and in absolute terms it ain’t half bad. The acoustic is a bit tubby and the horns can take over in the balance on occasion, but if sharpness of detail and swiftness of tempo aren’t priorities you can still invest in this bargain set safe in the knowledge you’ll have a decent set of Mozart’s masterpieces. Naxos also has a reasonably priced box conducted by Nicholas Ward and Barry Wordsworth which is very good. This is a modern recording with ‘authentic’ touches such as harpsichord continuo, and with rich recording acoustics and skilled musicianship this is another very strong 11 disc contender.
Charles Mackerras made some excellent recordings of Mozart for the Linn label (see review), but you will find his complete Mozart symphonies on Telarc with the Prague Chamber Orchestra. To my mind this is the set Tate has to beat, and with its consistently rich acoustic and marvellous depth of sound, Mackerras’s immaculate sense of phrasing, dynamics and expression and the feeling of ‘heart’ behind the music, Tate is always going to have a hard time. Taking the ‘Prague’ symphony, No. 38 K 504 you can hear all of this in the slow introduction, with eloquent shapes created in the strings, sharply defined but also defiant timpani which add a scary ‘march to the scaffold’ feel to Mozart’s operatic drama as it unfolds with a fine build-up of tension. The following Allegro is also filled with a sense of narrative, the story taking off with irresistible gusto and a drive which keeps moving forward with palpable urgency. Jeffrey Tate is also good, performing with a fine sense of theatricality. The recording is not quite the luxuriant sonic spread you get from Telarc, but there is detail in the Abbey Road studio if less atmosphere. Where everything is however all present and correct in this performance I have barely the same sense of doom-laden fatefulness in the opening introduction, nor do I feel the unstoppable sense of a story I simply have to hear all the way to the end when the Allegro finally kicks off.
The Symphony no 41 in C major, K 551 “Jupiter” is another litmus test in any set, and Jeffrey Tate’s performance is once again perfectly serviceable. The first movement is more on the stately than the bracingly exciting side, but on the other hand it is by no means leaden-footed. The second movement is more cantabile than Andante and my sense is that it could have been urged on with a little more forward momentum for all our benefit - the operatic drama which unfolds becomes more of an atmospheric intermezzo than something which keeps us gripped. The Menuetto is really a tad on the slow side here, this time making it more weighty than the music demands, and the final Molto allegro also lacks that leading edge of danger which might have made it something truly involving. The playing is of course excellent throughout and don’t get me wrong, if this were the version washed up with me on my desert island I would be happy to crank up the volume and be glad to be a member of the same species which produced W.A. Mozart. Of all the versions of this symphony available however, it wouldn’t be right at the top of the heap.
I am a huge fan of the English Chamber Orchestra, and the playing in these recordings is very high class indeed. To my ears the orchestra sounds better in the more expansive acoustics of the Henry Wood Hall and St Barnabas’ Church, but there is also nothing wrong at all with the Abbey Road sessions. What I miss here is the sheer variety of Mozart’s utterance explored by someone aware of and able to express them fully. Mackerras hears Mozart’s wit, his light and his dark, has us dancing in the corridors, giggling at little jokes and looking away when things become too intense. Tate performs with style and excellence, and always gives the music a sense of life and elegant freshness. I am very glad to have this set around, but I will always know if I want the ‘full Mozart’ then it is Mackerras to whom I will turn.
Dominy Clements

Disc contents
CD 1 [64:06]
Symphony no. 1 in E flat major, K 16 (1764-5)
Symphony no. 4 in D major, K 19 (1765)
Symphony in F major, K Anh. 223 (19a) (1765)
Symphony no. 5 in B flat major, K 22 (1765)
Symphony no. 7 in G major, K 45a (Anh.221) ‘Lambach’ (1765-66)
Symphony no. 43 in F major, K 76 (42a) (?1767)
CD 2 [64:35]
Symphony no. 7 in D major, K 45 (1768)
Symphony no. 6 in F major, K 43 (1767)
Symphony no. 55 in B flat major, K Anh. 214 (45b) (?1768)
Symphony no. 8 in D major, K 48 (1768)
Symphony no. 9 in C major, K 73 (1772)
Symphony no. 44 in D major, K 81 (73l) (1770)
CD 3 [73:54]
Symphony no. 47 in D major, K 97 (73m) (1770)
Symphony no. 45 in D major, K 95 (73n) (1770)
Symphony no. 11 in D major, K 84 (73q) (1770)
Symphony no. 10 in G major, K 74 (1770)
Symphony no. 42 in F major, K 75 (1771)
Symphony no. 12 in G major, K 110 (75b) (1771)
Symphony no. 46 in C major, K 96 (111b) (1771)
CD 4 [61:41]
Symphony no. 13 in F major, K 112 (1771)
Symphony no. 48 in D major, K 120 (111a) (1771)
Symphony no. 14 in A major, K 114 (1770)
Symphony no. 15 in G major, K 124 (1772)
Symphony no. 16 in C major, K 128 (1772)
CD 5 [72:01]
Symphony no. 17 in G major, K 129 (1772)
Symphony no. 18 in F major, K 130 (1772)
Symphony no. 19 in E flat major, K 132 (1772)
Symphony no. 20 in D major, K 133 (1772)
CD 6 [67:29]
Symphony no. 21 in A major, K 134 (1772)
Symphony no. 50 in D major, K 161/163 (141a) (1773-74)
Symphony no. 22 in C major, K 162 (1773)
Symphony no. 23 in D major, K 181 (162b) (1773)
Symphony no. 24 in B flat major, K 182 (173dA) (1773)
Symphony no. 51 in D major, K 121/196 (207a) (1774-75)
Symphony no. 52 in C major, K 102 (213c) (1775)
CD 7 [70:47]
Symphony no. 31 in D major, K 297 (300a) “Paris” (1778)
Symphony no. 27 in G major, K 199 (161b) (1773)
Symphony no. 25 in G minor, K 183 (173dB) (1773)
CD 8 [77:27]
Symphony no. 26 in E flat major, K 184 (161a) (1773)
Symphony no. 29 in A major, K 201 (186a) (1774)
Symphony no. 30 in D major, K 202 (186b) (1774)
Symphony no. 28 in C major, K 200 (189k) (1774)
CD 9 [64:05]
Symphony no. 32 in G major, K 318 (1779)
Symphony no. 35 in D major, K 385 “Haffner” (1782)
Symphony no. 39 in E flat major, K 543 (1788)
CD 10 [52:09]
Symphony no. 34 in C major, K 338 (1782)
Symphony no. 33 in B flat major, K 319 (1779)
CD 11 [67:29]
Symphony no. 36 in C major, K 425 "Linz" (1783)
Symphony no. 38 in D major, K 504 "Prague" (1786)
CD 12 [65:08]
Symphony no. 40 in G minor, K 550 (1788)
Symphony no. 41 in C major, K 551 “Jupiter” (1788)