One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here
 

 

International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger              Founding Editor: Rob Barnett              Contact Seen and Heard here

Some items
to consider

  • Henze Kammermusik 1958
  • Mozart Flute Quartets
  • Schubert complete piano works
  • Sammartini: 6 Concerti grossi
  • Henze Kammermusik 1958
 
Tudor



CD and Blue-ray Audio


CD and Blue-ray Audio


CPE Bach Cantatas
a revelation


Biber: Sacred Choral Works
Don't miss it


Jonathan Dove


Tommie Haglund
Unique and Powerful music


Organ Fireworks


Highly Entertaining


A triumphant performance


Bruckner Symphony 4
One of the finest I have heard


A most joy-inducing recording


A winning partnership


A Lohengrin to treasure.

 



Availability

Berliner Philharmoniker

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543 (1788) [29:37]
Symphony No.40 in g minor, K550 (1788) [27:42]
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (‘Jupiter’) (1788) [31:30]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. live Philharmonie Berlin, 23 August 2013 in 24/48 sound.
BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER BPHR17032 [88:57]
Reviewed as 24-bit press preview.

The previous Berlin Philharmonic recording with Sir Simon Rattle was a lavish all-LP affair, recorded direct to disc and costing an arm and a leg.  In contrast the new release is digital-only, offered in 24-bit stereo or surround at a much more reasonable €24.90.  Those happy with mp3 will find it for €9.49 from German Amazon.  UK purchasers will find it for £9.59 (16-bit) or £14.39 (24-bit) from Qobuz.  All except the Amazon mp3 come complete with a pdf booklet.

There seem to be no Mozart symphony recordings from Rattle in the current UK catalogue so this release from the Berlin Phil on their own label is welcome on that score alone.

The obvious comparison among recent releases would be Sir Charles Mackerras’ superb 2-CD set of these three works plus Symphony No.38 (‘Prague’) with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Linn CKD308 – Recording of the Month Download Roundup January 2009).  That’s my benchmark but I must admit that I also regularly dig out my 2-CD CBS set of Nos. 35, 36 and 38-41, with Bruno Walter conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (M2YK45676, no longer available).  If Mackerras represents smaller-scale performance guided by principles established by period performers, Walter is unreformed old-school, even to the extent of whole-scale first-movement cuts allowing six symphonies to be squeezed on two CDs.  I ought not to like it but it’s not just the fact that it was from these performances of Nos. 35 and 41 on LP that I got to know these works that makes me return to it.

The Walter set may no longer be available, though his earlier NYPO versions of 39-41 are, but Karl Böhm’s 2-CD set of Nos. 35, 36 and 38-41 shares many of its virtues.  Recorded around 1960 with an earlier incarnation of the Berlin Philharmonic, it remains available on DG Originals (4474162, 2 CDs around £10), with 39-41 also separately from Australian DG Eloquence (4632322) and Nos. 32, 35, 28 and 41 from Beulah – see below.

On the basis of his recording of Haydn (Symphonies 88-92 – Recording of the Month review – 2 CDs at super-budget price), my expectation was that Rattle would be closer to Böhm and Walter than to Mackerras.  Though highly regarded in many quarters, his Haydn is just too ‘big-band’ for me, even by comparison with other modern-instrument recordings, such as those from Adam Fischer (Nimbus – review) and Eugen Jochum (Nos. 88, 91, 93-104 DG E4743642 budget price, download only or 42-CD set).

A few months before these performances with the Berlin Phil, at the opening of their 2013/14 season, Rattle had conducted the three last Mozart symphonies with the period-instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the London Royal Festival Hall. I assume that the experience with the OAE helped shape these Berlin performances.  Certainly they come much closer to the ideal combination of modern-instrument playing with a sense of period style than I found the Haydn to be.  Here and there I found myself a little irritated by oddities of phrasing or tempo and in individual movements I prefer Mackerras, Böhm or Walter, but mostly I’d be happy with these recordings on my desert island.  I suspect that those odd idiosyncrasies might even prove endearing in the long run just as Beecham’s Haydn and Mozart does.

I found Rattle’s recording of the Haydnesque No.39 much more amenable than his earlier set of the Haydn symphonies.  I don’t believe that he has recorded Schubert’s Fifth symphony; if he does I hope it will be as attractive as his approach to Mozart’s No.40, in many ways its progenitor.  The approach to these two works brings out both their similarities and their differences.

I’ve already hinted that No.41, the Jupiter, comes off best of all on this Berlin Philharmonic set.  That’s as it should be: this is a remarkable work when one remembers that in 1788 Beethoven had yet to complete his Second Piano Concerto – actually his first – which still consisted of only two movements at that date and it would still be several years before Haydn’s second set of ‘London’ symphonies produced anything of comparable stature with the Jupiter.

Some time ago I reviewed a Beulah reissue of Böhm’s recording of No.41, an alternative to the DG reissue (1PDR14, with Nos. 32, 35 and 38).  I enjoyed listening to that again and, in its very different way, to Otto Klemperer’s account (Beulah 2PDR2, with Brahms, Gluck and Wagner – review).  At 11:41, with repeats observed, Rattle’s first movement has greater gravitas than Böhm, Walter or even the majestic Klemperer who all omit them.  Yet this is a grandly benevolent rather than a stern chief deity, with the BPO giving Rattle both lightness and weight where each is needed and offering a serious challenge to Mackerras, who also observes the repeats.

The finale, too, comes with repeats but otherwise is as full of joie de vivre as Böhm who omits them.  Klemperer, also sans repeats, dances in slightly heavier, though not impossibly clumpy boots, but it’s Mackerras who, observing all repeats and resisting hectic tempi yet with plenty of lightness in his step carries the day for me in this movement. 

With over 200 versions in the current catalogue no one recording of the Jupiter can do it all.  Period-instrument enthusiasts will perhaps prefer Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s live recording of Nos. 39 and 41 on his own SDG label (SDG711 – review) but a comparison for DL News 2013/7 found me preferring Mackerras.  Both make more of the second movement than Rattle; otherwise all three offer very similar and valid approaches to this symphony, reminding us why it ranks as one of the greatest of all time.

Sir Roger Norrington’s live 2006 Jupiter with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra has its advocates.  By comparison with Rattle and Mackerras, however, though enjoyably alert it sounds a little too sedate and the coupling with the immature No.1 and No.25, generally regarded as the first Mozart symphony to warrant serious attention, is somewhat bizarre.  (Haenssler 93:211).

On my press preview of the Berlin Philharmonic recording the symphonies followed much too hard on each other’s heels: I hope that has been corrected in the final release but it is far too common a problem with downloads and there’s little that can be done about it.  There’s no applause; for once even those who dislike it might have welcomed it.

The 24-bit version sounds very well; I recommend paying extra for it, or at least for the 16-bit, rather than the inexpensive mp3, especially as the latter appears to come without the valuable pdf booklet.

If you can’t run to more than a single set of these late Mozart symphonies, Mackerras on Linn would still be my recommendation, available on SACD for around £19 or as a download from linnrecords.com or hyperion-records.co.uk for £18 (16-bit) or £25 (24-bit).  Good as Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic are, detailed comparison with Mackerras usually shows the latter to be better still. If, however, just one view of Mozart’s final symphonic works won’t do, Rattle or Böhm, the latter with an earlier incarnation of the same orchestra and not sounding unduly dated, would make a very fine addition.

Brian Wilson


 




Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and get a free CD

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical



Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger