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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Three Salzburg Symphonies
Symphony No.21 in A, K134 (1772) [18:08]
Symphony No.27 in G, K199 (162a) (1773) [19:51]
Symphony No.34 in C, K338 (1780) with Menuetto, K409 (1782?) [28:18]
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/Manfred Huss
performed on period instruments
rec. Schloss Reichenau, Reichenau/Rax, Austria, February 2006 (K134, K199) and Brucknerhaus Linz (Großer Saal), Austria, April 2015 (K338, K409)
K134 and K199 were originally released by VMS/Zappel Music and remastered by BIS Records.
BIS BIS-2218 [67:20]

Reviewed as 24/44.1 download from, also available in mp3 and 16-bit formats and on CD from dealers.

The title of this recording may be somewhat misleading: the title Salzburg Symphonies is often applied to the Divertimenti K136-138 and that’s what I thought at first was contained here.

Manfred Huss and the Haydn Sinfonietta of Vienna have been winning golden opinions for their Haydn and Mozart recordings for many years now. Indeed, the recordings of Symphonies Nos. 21 and 27 were made ten years ago, though I cannot find any reference to their being released in the UK. Ronald Brautigam chose Huss as co-soloist with himself and Alexei Lubimov in the Mozart 3-piano concerto with the Haydn Sinfonietta as accompanists in his almost-complete series of recordings for BIS of the Mozart keyboard concertos on the fortepiano (BIS-SACD-1618). The rest of the series, which I like very much, was made with the support of the equally accomplished Kölner Akademie.

Conventional wisdom has it that the earliest Mozart symphony worthy of serious attention is No.25 and it is true that early Mozart symphonies tend to be less interesting than early Haydn, who seems to have got it right from the word go: try his Symphonies 6-8 if in doubt. Conductors have tended to concentrate on No.25 and it’s a symphony that I have got to know well since I was introduced to it by, of all unlikely conductors, Otto Klemperer on a Columbia LP borrowed from the University Record Library. (Still available on Warner 4043612, Mozart Symphonies, Overtures and Serenades, download only.)

There are 92 current versions of No.25 in the catalogue, fewer of Nos. 21 and 27, but I was surprised to see 23 of the former and 29 of the latter. There are many more recordings of No.34, of course: 61 currently. Performances of these works come in all flavours: period-instrument, modern-instrument and compromise performances from small modern-instrument ensembles with a sense of period style.

My benchmark, especially for the earlier symphonies, comes from Jaap ter Linden with the Mozart Akademie Amsterdam – my Recording of the Month in May 2012, 11 CDs for around £26. (Brilliant Classics 94295). Those prepared to accept mp3, at the full 320kb/s rate, will find the set for £8.99 from , with Nectar points for UK purchasers. have the set, also at 320kb/s (mp3 or m4a) for the same price; some other download providers are charging more than for the CD set, but those requiring lossless sound can stream (for subscribers) or download from Qobuz for £16.19.

I also listened to these three symphonies courtesy of Qobuz from the complete set recorded for DG by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert. I’ve given a link for subscribers wishing to stream but I can’t recommend the download: at £47.44 it’s more expensive than the CDs, available for £20.99.

Nos. 21 and 27 share the power and vigour of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies from the late 1760s to early 1780s, though without the minor-key weirdness of the latter. They both receive performances which stress the power of the music rather than the grace and litheness which are the hallmark of the ter Linden recordings. With the exception of the minuet of No.21 and the andantino grazioso of No.27, Huss adopts faster tempi throughout. He also includes repeats in the andantino, thereby giving it its deserved weight.

Pinnock takes that movement at a sedate pace, perhaps losing sight of the andantino marking which Huss and ter Linden observe more closely, but that’s a rare criticism of a highly regarded set of all the symphonies. No criticism of his rousing account of the finale, which leaves Huss and his team sounding a trifle arthritic. These observations apart, however, which are apparent only when doing A/B comparisons, there’s a great deal to enjoy in all three recordings of these early symphonies and you can hardly go wrong with any of them.

No.34 is usually performed with just the three surviving movements – someone cut out all but the first page of the minuet – but we know that Mozart intended it at one stage as a 4-movement work, so the inclusion of K409 seems justifiable. It’s not a new idea: Karl Böhm did it on his recording (DG). Though composed just before Mozart left Salzburg, No.34 properly belongs with his Viennese works and it’s performed here with larger forces and in a more resonant venue in recognition of that fact.

My chief comparison has been with Sir Charles Mackerras on Telarc, available separately (Nos. 31, 33 and 34 on CD80190) or as part of a complete set (CD80729, 10 CDs for around £38). Happily the three symphonies on the new BIS recording don’t overlap with Mackerras’s wonderful later 2-CD Mozart recordings for Linn: Nos. 38-41 on CKD308 and 29, 31, 32, 35 and 36 on CKD350.

Mackerras is considerably faster and more supple in the outer movements of No.34 without losing track of the ‘more strictly symphonic style’ to which Huss refers in the BIS notes. I don’t know the exact size of his chamber orchestra – or, indeed, of the Haydn Sinfonietta, as augmented for this symphony – but Mackerras seems to me to have the best of all worlds: adept players on modern instruments but with a real sense of period style and the recording hardly merits the Penguin Guide’s criticism of being over-reverberant.

Mackerras takes the opening of the second movement Andantino di molto più tosto allegretto sedately, and one could think that he had missed the allegretto marking for the later section until one compares the tempo at start and finish and realises that the increase in pace has been gradual. The final allegro is more vivace from Mackerras and Pinnock than on the new recording from Huss. Though ter Linden is fastest of all on paper, largely due to his failure to observe all the repeats, he sounds just a little deliberate. Huss observes all the repeats and is only slightly less vivace than Mackerras.

I’ve mentioned the Böhm recording, now available at budget-price on DG Eloquence (Symphonies 31-34, 4632302). I expected to find that over-sedate but, though the Berlin Philharmonic are a little on the large side for the music, I found the performances anything but leisurely or stodgy. I should have remembered that Böhm’s Mozart is still very competitive for those in search of the larger-scale approach.

In summary, then, the new recording stands up well to the competition. If my ultimate choice would lie marginally elsewhere in each individual case, particularly with Mackerras in No.34, I shall certainly be playing and enjoying the BIS album. If you want these three symphonies together without obtaining a complete set and especially if you are looking for period instruments without tears – including an almost inaudible fortepiano – and even more if you would like the substituted minuet, about which I’m easy either way, I recommend going for it. Downloaders in search of the very good 24-bit sound should act speedily while it’s still available for the same price as 16-bit. There doesn’t appear to be an SACD equivalent but the 16-bit is good enough for me to assume that the CD will not disappoint.

Brian Wilson



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