Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551 [31:21]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1802) [35:02]
Poznán Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Neville Marriner
rec. live, 15 November 2013, Auditorium of Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznán, Poland
DUX 1196 [66:23]

At the time of writing in 2015 Sir Neville Marriner is 91, and would have been 89 when this concert was recorded. His biography in the booklet opens with the quote, “the awful thing about a conductor becoming geriatric is that you seem to become more desirable, not less. I just wish all these offers had come in when I was thirty!” Forever associated with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields which he founded in 1959, Sir Neville Marriner has put his name to hundreds of recordings over the years.

This live recording isn’t bad but neither is it great. The general sound is a bit on the warm and woolly side, with the woodwinds rather in the background, and when they rise above the orchestra there is an odd acoustic resonance effect, as if they are just far enough away from the back wall for the echo to interfere with the sound. The brass fare better and are able to cut through the string texture without sounding spotlit. There is the occasional distant splutter from the audience but this is within acceptable bounds. Applause at the end of each work is included.

Marriner’s past recordings of these works – including Mozart on EMI in the late 1980s and Beethoven in 1970, now re-released on the Pentatone label with SACD re-mastering, were both with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Timings in the Mozart are very similar to those on this Poznán recording, and with no real revelations from the 2013 performance there are no advantages in having it if you already cherish the older and much cleaner recording with the younger Marriner. There are some interesting details, such as the better defined dynamic surprises in the Andante cantabile second movement which were always a bit on the soggy side from the Academy, but these don’t really tip the balance. The same is almost true of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, though Marriner is more spacious in the first movement. There is a good energy in this performance and it has plenty of dynamic bite, though it’s not always immaculately tidy in terms of ensemble. You can hear little shifts in the Larghetto second movement where one orchestral section or the other just creeps ahead or has to catch up, and the strings are also by no means together all of the time.

All in all, this is a nice souvenir of a good concert, but wouldn’t be a library choice for either of these works. If you are a fan of Sir Neville Marriner then there is much enjoyable music-making to be heard. The quality of his pacing in these works is beyond criticism, and his shaping of melodies and balancing of sonorities is also very natural and refined. The stronger modern orchestra recordings of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony include Sir Charles Mackerras, and as for Beethoven’s Second Symphony we’re spoilt for choice. Perhaps we can persuade you to invest in a box set of the whole cycle – they’re really not that expensive these days, and I’ve been enjoying Chailly of late, though appreciate he won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Dominy Clements

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