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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]

“In Mozart you find the fantastic balance between the elements that make up music and make up a human being”: profound words by the late Sir Colin Davis. The recordings here are from the early days of the great Mozartian return. They are heard in fine re-mastering and are a delight. The recording of Symphony No. 39 in E flat major is of poignant nostalgic value to me as it was in the collection of my grandfather, an eminent scientist, who had a small but select record collection which we inherited, on his death in 1972. He had bought the Philips LP, the sleeve illustrations of which are in this set’s booklet, to replace a worn-out recording by Sir Thomas Beecham (HMV). He had played the symphony including the minuet to my late father, prior to a job interview in Oxford; he got the job and the music became of special significance. Sir Colin had already recorded the symphony with the Sinfonia of London¸ which is in the Colin Davis Icon box. A later version is part of an excellent 1980s set with the Staatskappelle Dresden; fine performances, but this Decca Eloquence one is very special. In 2007 my colleague Michael Greenhalgh reviewed, contemporaneous recordings with the English Chamber Orchestra, originally on L'Oiseau-Lyre  and a selection from both has been available on a 3 CD set from Regis. This, however, is the first time these recordings have been collected together and the contents of the first CD and Symphony 29 are receiving their first DECCA CD release. ‘He (Davis) simply knew how Mozart should go.’ recalled the film director Humphrey Burton after the conductor’s death in 2013.

It is recounted in excellently detailed notes by Peter Quantrill that a landmark event in Davis’s career occurred in 1959, when he took over performances of Don Giovanni in London from Carlo Maria Giulini, who substituted for the ill Klemperer on the famous EMI set. Record labels soon took notice of his Mozartian gifts and he Davis began to work regularly with the LSO in the early 1960s. It was a relationship that quickly bore fruit in the recording studio with Symphonies Nos. 39 and 40, which also marked the beginning of the 40-year-long relationship between the conductor and the Dutch Philips label. These recordings were welcomed as ‘young man’s Mozart’, respecting tradition but not in hock to it. Harold Rosenthal’s early praise of Davis in the pit is worth recalling: “Not since the departure from London of [Erich] Kleiber have we heard a Mozart opera directed with such musicality, style and rhythm, or so beautifully shaped.”

This two CD set presents the contents of 3 LPs and include very fine performances of the 2 flute concertos and the Andante. The flautist is the distinguished Dutch-born German instrumentalist Hubert Barwahser (1906-1985). He had had been recording for Philips since the label’s earliest days, both as a soloist and as principal flautist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He is present on recordings going back to pre-WW2, including the remarkable St Matthew Passion under Mengelberg which everyone should hear at least once. Mozart famously disliked the flute but his two concertos and the Andante are charming works which it’s a pleasure to return to occasionally. Barwahser had previously recorded these works in 1956 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Sir John Pritchard, also on Philips; those VSO versions do not appear to have been re-released. The present recordings are generally held to be superior and they are indeed unfailingly beautiful. I’m delighted by these “extras” to the symphonies. There was some criticism of Davis in accompanying soloists in the early years but I find he is most empathetic and provides just the right accompaniment. As a photograph shows, one member of the LSO was that superb Mozartian Sir Neville Marriner,

The first CD ends with Symphony No. 39 in E flat major and it sounds even finer than my memory would have it. The powerful Adagio beginning, sets the scene and how well the orchestra play. The sound of Walthamstow Assembly Hall is magnificently captured. At the time it was suggested that Davis conducted Mozart like early Beethoven but there is no doubt here that he had struck on the right approach. How delicate is the phrasing of the Andante con moto and there is a feeling of dance, albeit slow throughout the sublime nine minutes. The Menuetto (Allegretto) is so burnt onto my consciousness to make objectivity nigh impossible. It is, on returning to it, just as inspiring as before and there is none of the ‘pulling about’ of tempo that conductors like Harnoncourt pursue. The clarinet (Gervase de Peyer?) is excellent in the trio as are the horns. I was tempted to put it on repeat. My grandfather used to be disparaging about the Allegro finale, as if Mozart wasn’t giving it his full attention. It seems to me to contain one of his jokes and is a fine way to end this supreme work. It is wonderfully played.

The second CD is equally fine and to keep this review to manageable length, I will be brief. The “little” G Minor Symphony No.25 starts in dark tones, as used so effectively in the film “Amadeus”. This is treated correctly as an early but certainly not trivial work. Here, especially is some luminous wind playing and one can only marvel at this creation by a teenager. Symphony No. 29, is another favourite and a clear sign, at the age of 18, of Mozart’s emerging maturity. It’s mainly an uplifting work and Davis and the LSO give a splendid rendition - certainly one of the finest versions. Symphony No.32, K318 is an “Italian Overture” and Davis shows his skill as an opera conductor; a delightful morsel. We hear all the essence of Mozart’s qualities in just over eight minutes. Symphony No. 40 in G minor is a great work, one of the final trio that Mozart wrote in six weeks. This version has been much praised and although it isn’t amongst my favourite Mozart, its qualities are brought to the fore in Davis’s hands.

Listening to this set has been a sheer delight and I’m so pleased to have this special Symphony No. 39 in such great sound. At its bargain price, this reissue should appeal to all lovers of Mozart and Davis admirers.
 
David R Dunsmore



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