Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major, K. 543 [25:03]
Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 [26:15]
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, Jupiter [27:00]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm
rec. 1962. ADD. stereo,
ALTO ALC1339 [78:35]

Having clocked up more than half a century what we hear on this brimming disc is "big band" Mozart. The sound is commanding, even burly. There's angst too - listen to the Adagio of No. 39 and the Menuetto of No. 40. Böhm plays it all straight from a very broad shoulder; not that this completely precludes gentle ornaments and sylvan gestures.

A positive tread thunders out in the Menuetto of No. 39 but even with the fully populated benches of the BPO there's a fleet-footed athleticism about the Finale. The iconically serene start of No. 40 does tend to plod rather than fly. The connection to the earth dominates here or at least trims the flight feathers. The towering nature of these readings and recordings works best in Jupiter. It is the symphony most saturated in glory and thrives on a Beethovenian helping of Eroica, Coriolan and Egmont. Even so Böhm rather overdoes the grandeur in its Menuetto; his Menuettos are prone to a leaden gait. In the Molto Allegro solo woodwind curls and trills provide blessed leaven to contrast with all that stomping triumph and inexorable heroism.

We should remember that we are hearing Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic who that same year (1962) recorded the Beethoven symphonies with HvK himself. These recordings spin ands sculpt Mozart in the emphatic manner of mid-period Beethoven. They held court, representative of monumental Mozartean grandeur until fashion moved on. No doubt it will move back - it usually does. In any event these sessions speak for a lost era's manners and modes. They can be accommodated alongside other approaches including today's sleek and lean predominance. They are there so that a choice can be made. These recordings last put in an appearance on a DG Panorama double. Böhm tackled them afresh for DG in 1976-80 (review) but with No.35 rather than No.39. On that occasion he directed the VPO.

The scene is set in the liner-notes by Alto stalwart James Murray.

Rob Barnett

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