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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze di Figaro, K492: Overture (1786) [4:32]
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 (1785) [30:30]
Exultate Jubilate K165 (1773) [12:33]
Symphony No. 40 in C, K550 (1790) [29:02]
John Lenehan (piano)
Grace Davidson (soprano)
National Symphony Orchestra/Rimma Sushanskaya
rec. 2018, Henry Wood Hall, London
GUILD GMCD7817 [78:45]

The first thing to say about this Mozart CD is that it was all recorded in one day. What we’re hearing is, in effect, a live concert and the frisson of an occasion is certainly present. There was a similar concert given in St Martin-in-the-Fields in February 2018 with Rimma Sushanskaya, John Lenehan and the Locrian Ensemble. The National Symphony Orchestra may perhaps contain some of the same players as the orchestra of that name probably best known for the early FFRR recordings on Decca. These included the first, in 1944, under Sidney Beer (1899-1971) of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth. Rimma Sushanskaya was the last pupil of David Oistrakh and has made some CDs for IMP as a violinist. John Lenehan has made over seventy recordings, some of which have been reviewed on this site.

To adapt Dr Johnson, he who is tired of Mozart is tired of life. He was my ‘first composer’ and, believe it or not, I “performed” the first scene from Le Nozze di Figaro in front of three hundred school-children when I was 7. The overture sets up the opera wonderfully well but is fine on its own. Here, it is given a lively rendition and the orchestra play with panache. It’s well to hear the timpani so clearly. Piano Concerto No. 21 is sometimes referred to as Elvira Madigan as it was used in Bo Widerberg’s 1967 film of that name. The recording by Geza Anda (review) was many people’s (including my wife’s) introduction to Mozart; it is still a best-seller. That said, my favourite is the unique Dinu Lipatti with Karajan (Warner). John Lenehan gives a most accomplished performance and totally avoids the “Dresden China” approach in the slow movement. Comparisons with great renditions are really unnecessary; Lenehan’s playing is excellent. His cadenzas in the outer movements are very effective and have just the right touch of humour; essential in Mozart.
Exultate Jubilate was written when Mozart was 17 but is one of his most familiar pieces, particularly the first movement and the “Alleluia”. Grace Davidson, who has also has a full catalogue of recordings, apparently made her singing debut at the age of three during a performance of “Cats”. She has an enticing voice and sings these enchanting pieces with real aplomb aided by lively accompaniment from the orchestra.

I have to confess that Symphony No.40 is my least favourite of Mozart’s mature symphonies. It is partly due to the “pop” version of the 1970s but I find it somewhat lacking in the spirit of 39 and 41. Having said that, the first movement here goes well and the Andante is played with rhythm and delicacy. This is the revised version with clarinets which, on balance, is a good thing, Mozart, who was a staunch friend of Anton Stadler, did so much to advance the clarinet and wrote three pieces for the instrument. This Guild recording may have been made quickly but the orchestra seem to be of one accord and there is a chamber music feeling prevalent. The alluring Menuetto has some delightful flourishes and the horns are particularly effective. The Finale brings the symphony and the recital to a splendid conclusion.

In praising this “concert”, I would suggest that it would be an ideal present for someone who has little or no Mozart - or possibly classical - in their collection. It stands as very effective advocacy for the genius of Mozart. It might have been more compelling at mid- or budget price but it is certainly a disc that I will be re-visiting.
David R Dunsmore

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