MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around   2022
 57,903 reviews
   and more ... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here
Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


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.
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 or 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


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount