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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Symphony No. 40, KV 550 (1788) [34.09]
Symphony No. 41, KV 551 ‘Jupiter’ (1788) [38.30]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. live, 31 January–1 February 2013 (40) & 21–22 December 2017 (41), Herkulessaal, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900164 [72.39]

Here we have one of the world’s greatest orchestras Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under veteran conductor Herbert Blomstedt performing Mozart’s final two symphonies, both undisputed masterpieces, in live concert from the Herkulessaal, Munich.

For around four decades I lived with recordings of Mozart symphonies in the manner of the Kapellmeister tradition conducted by Karl Böhm, primarily those he recorded in the sixties with Berliner Philharmoiniker on Deutsche Grammophon. Another example I clearly recall of so-called big-band Mozart was in 2012 reporting from a Dresdner Musikfestspiele concert at Semperoper with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker in a concert of Mozart’s final three symphonies. I wrote “Three symphonies - all classical masterpieces from the pen of that classical prodigy Mozart, performed by probably the world’s finest orchestra and conducted by the musical genius that is Barenboim – was symphonic heaven.” On the other hand, I’ve been captivated by top-drawer accounts from Marc Minkowski using period instruments and Sir Charles Mackerras employing a mix of period and modern instruments.  

In Symphony No. 40, Blomstedt’s reasonably broad dynamics are convincing and his overall tempi feel well judged. The juxtaposition created between cordiality and storm which infuse all the movements is admirable. In Blomstedt’s hands, the celebrated main theme in the opening Molto allegro sounds especially delightful. The Andante feels warmly idyllic, and is punctuated with short episodes that are dark and unsettling; the turbulent Menuetto has a contrasting trio section of elegant deportment. The Finale: Molto assai, one of the most volatile movements Mozart ever wrote, is vehemently robust and agitated under Blomsted, and makes a significant impact.

A swirling sea of melody pervades the opening Allegro vivace of Symphony No. 41 ‘Jupiter’. This is boldly determined playing, full of confidence, and the shifts in tempi are well executed. Although attractive on the surface in the Andante cantabile Blomstedt reveals an undertow of sorrow and apprehension while the boisterous Menuetto feels so Haydnesque in character. Completely engaging, the urgently vivacious concluding movement Molto allegro is full of joyous anticipation as if hurrying to attend a festive occasion. Recorded at live concerts in 2013 and 2017 at Herkulessaal, Munich the slightly bright sound is clear and well balanced. In addition, there is a helpful essay written by Jörg Handstein in the booklet.  

Under Blomstedt, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks plays most impressively but in my view the partnership doesn’t quite get to the heart of these two great symphonies by Mozart compared with my three benchmark recordings. For ‘big-band’ Mozart I admire the classic accounts from Berliner Philharmoniker under Karl Böhm from 1961-62 recorded at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin on Deutsche Grammophon. I enjoy also the recordings by Sir Charles Mackerras with Scottish Chamber Orchestra, employing a period informed approach but not excessively so, which includes modern strings and winds with period brass. Mackerras recorded these compelling accounts in 2007 at City Halls, Dundee for the Linn label. Using period instruments, Les Musiciens du Louvre under Marc Minkowski excel in recordings made at MC2 (Maison de la Culture), Grenoble in 2005 on Archiv Produktion.

Michael Cookson


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