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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543 [30:37]
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 [35:27]
Symphony No. 41 in C, K551 [40:02]
Masonic Funeral Music, K477 [5:21]
Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall
rec. 1991-2018, Collégiale de Cardona, Spain, Église des Dominicains, Guebwiller, France
Hybrid stereo/surround, reviewed as stereo CD
ALIA VOX AVSA9934 SACD [71:59 + 75:41]

In his accompanying liner notes to this sumptuous production, Jordi Savall profiles Mozart's last three symphonies against a backdrop of illness, poverty and destitution. He also makes much of the composer's Masonic connections. He sees these three masterpieces as a symphonic testament, a triptych, if you like. He stresses the key and thematic relationships between them. To facilitate this for the listener and provide continuity, the same performance of Symphony No. 40 follows No. 39 on CD 1, and is included also on CD 2, preceding No. 41.

The inclusion of the brief Masonic Funeral Music, as a bonus track, "evoke(s) the musical and spiritual atmosphere of the Masonic lodges with which Mozart was so closely associated".  The performance was recorded in 1991. To accommodate the discs timings, it's placed at the end of CD 1, but Savall suggests that is should ideally be heard after the finale of the 'Jupiter' Symphony, its sombre demeanour providing suitable closure.

The year was 1788, and the composer was at the height of his creative powers. The last three symphonies, his 'Symphonic Testament' were not written to a commission, and were completed within a very short time frame, in less than two months.

The imposing opening of No. 39 acts as a sort of overture, and Savall steers it into a relaxed Allegro. The slow movement has a gentil delicacy. There's much forward momentum and pace in the Menuetto, which I like. The dark, ominous undercurrents permeate the first movement of No. 40. Again, the Menuetto, like that of No. 39, has rhythmic vigour and tenacity. The opening movement of No. 41 is majestically wrought. The slow movement, one of Mozart's most beautiful, is elegantly sculpted and radiantly contoured. In the finale, there's a real joie de vivre and sense of celebration, reinforced by some impressive brass and drums. My only caveat is that perhaps the fugal lines lack some clarity and definition.

Le Concert des Nations is a relatively small period instrument ensemble, and the personnel for each symphony is listed at the beginning of the booklet. The imposing venue chosen for the recording, the Collégiale de Cardona, provides a large cavernous and resonant acoustic. The result is that the orchestra sounds bigger than it really is, and does rob the sound, to some extent, of any sense of intimacy.

Alia Vox is Savall's own label and, as with their other releases, the presentation is lavish by any standards. The booklet runs to just over 200 pages, with multilingual notes and a cache of beautifully produced colour photographs featuring the orchestra and fine facsimiles of the scores.

Stephen Greenbank

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