Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major, K313 (1778) [24:46]
Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major, K314 (1778) [19:45]
Andante in C major, K315 for flute and orchestra (1778) [5:47]
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K543 (1788) [29:49]
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K183 (1773) [20:24]
Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201 (1774) [22:47]
Symphony No. 32 in G major, K318 (1779) [8:17]
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 (1788) [26:36]
Hubert Barwahser (flute)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
rec. 27-28 November 1961 (K543, K550), 26-29 November 1963 (K183, K201, K 318), 30-31 December 1963 (K313, 314, 315), Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
ELOQUENCE 482 9374 [80:46 + 78:38]
This is yet another gem in Eloquence's ongoing quest to remaster and reissue both familiar and forgotten albums from the back catalogues of Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and the long defunct Philips. Shoe-horned onto two discs are three Philips LPs of Mozart, all conducted by the then up-and-coming Colin Davis. Recorded between 1961 and 1963, this gathers up the two Flute concertos (with the K315 Andante included) and five of Mozart's best-known symphonies.
These are especially lovely accounts of the flute concertos. A forgotten name now, German-born Hubert Barwahser was lead flautist of the Concertgebouw orchestra for several decades until 1971. His trajectory therefore has some similarity with the Bonn-born but Dutch patron, Dr Ferdinand De Jean, who commissioned several works for flute from Mozart in 1777. Mozart, who famously disliked the instrument, ended up writing four flute quartets but only one of the three promised flute concertos. The second concerto is a mere reworking of his oboe concerto and the short, charming K315 andante is either an alternative andante to the first concerto or a possible sketch of the aborted third.
Barwahser is a forward, very fluid soloist, virtuosic but always tasteful. He has a sweet, very full sound but it is never cloying and is ideally matched to Davis' urgent, fresh-sounding accompaniments. There is superb inner balance from the London Symphony Orchestra here, their rhythms buoyant but given enough air to breathe. In the symphonies, Davis is a little mellower. This account of the 39th symphony will sound grand to many ears now but listen closely and one can hear how he maintains energy within the broader structures. The tempi are never slow and only show up the unnecessary restlessness of much of today's Mozart playing. Davis is never making an empty point.
Objective doesn't mean dull. Having said that, Davis takes a lyrical view of the typically frenetic Symphony No. 25 but not at the expense of its extreme drama in the opening movement. The clarity he obtains reveals some stunning individual playing from the winds. This level-headed approach makes the most of the development sections of the 29th symphony and the 40th is autumnal but still full of momentum and poise. Davis would later record some of these symphonies with the weightier Dresden Staatskapelle to no discernible improvement. As far as I am aware, these are his only accounts of Mozart's flute concertos, although Barwahser had recorded them previously with John Pritchard. The same team recorded the better-known Flute and Harp Concerto along with the Clarinet Concerto from around the same time, so I presume that will be making an appearance on Eloquence perhaps with some more of Davis' early Mozart, such as the overtures. Don't be put off by the age and by the modern instruments. Yes, I too grew up preferring my Mozart to be fast, loud and entirely without vibrato but it has been so healthy to hear music-making that has no agenda. This isn't heavy Mozart, despite the vintage.
The sound is bright and defined, yet doesn't want for spaciousness. Performances like these put a stop to those dull, fundamentalist arguments about the unproven superiority of period practice or Karajanesque, lush-stringed Romanticism. The LSO here presents Mozart as cleanly and well defined as any recent performance and with a darn sight less fuss and fidgeting. As ever, Eloquence's transfers come up as fresh as paint and for a while I had to remind myself I wasn't listening to early Decca stereo, such is the piercing clarity and balance of these Philips tapes. As a convenient double album for the newcomer Mozartian or an essential addition for the collector, this is a delight. Nerds like me will be as entranced by the facsimiles of the three original album covers as by Peter Quantrill's superb essay on Colin Davis' early years and his initially hostile relationship with the London Symphony Orchestra. None of that rubs off on the vibrant music-making, nor did it prevent Sir Colin from becoming the LSO's much respected Chief Conductor from 1995 until 2007. This visit to their origins is fascinating and sounds as if it was made yesterday.
Previous review: David Dunsmore