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
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
– 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.