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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
10th Anniversary Collection
Susan Gritton (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo), Timothy Robinson (tenor), Peter Rose (bass)
SCO Chorus
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. City Halls, Glasgow (CD 1-4), and Caird Hall, Dundee (CD 5), 11–17 July 2009 (CD 1-2), 3–9 August 2007 (CD 3-4) and 14–16 December 2002 (CD 5)
Requiem text and translation included.
Reviewed as 24/96 and 24/192 press preview.
LINN CKD651 [59:26 + 57:31 + 66:49 + 72:29 + 54:49]

These are old friends making a very welcome re-appearance, so I would normally include them in my Retrospective, but they deserve a review to themselves, especially as I have decided to make this reissue one of my Recordings of the Year. I note with approval that the new set is entitled 10th Anniversary Collection; it’s certainly a fitting tribute to Sir Charles Mackerras, who died in 2010. The obituary in The Guardian described him as engaged in ‘a timeless quest for perfection… [He] boxed the compass of repertory and musical experience in a manner equalled by few, if any, of his contemporaries’. Just think of the range of repertoire in which he excelled, from Handel via Mozart, Beethoven and Dvořák to Janáček, and that very accurate description, combined with the Anniversary title, encourages me to look at his achievement all round.

If I were choosing a tribute collection, I wouldn’t know where to start, but the 5-CD Supraphon set Life with Czech Music: Janáček and Martinů (SU40422) and the 6-CD Life with Czech Music: Dvořák and Smetana (SU41412), both very inexpensive, would certainly feature on my list, as would the set of Beethoven symphonies which he recorded live at the Edinburgh Festival for Hyperion (CDS44301/5 - review: Recording of the Month – review DL Roundup March 2010) and, of course, this 5-CD Mozart reissue.

For Linn, as well as these Mozart recordings, still available on CKD308 (2 SACDs: Recording of the Month – review DL Roundup January 2009), CKD350 (2 SACDs – review: Recording of the Month April 2010) and BKD211 (single CD) he set down Bartók and Kodaly (BKD234) and Beethoven Piano Concertos 3-5 (with Artur Pizarro, BKD336 – review review of earlier release as CKD336). With other recordings for Philips (now Decca), Chandos, DG, Signum, Telarc and Carus, Mackerras was a deserving pluralist. His earlier complete set of the Mozart symphonies for Telarc with the Prague Chamber Orchestra, separately or on a super-budget 10-CD set CD80729, is well worth investigating, though the Linn recordings of those reissued here is even better.

His Cunning Little Vixen (Decca Originals 4758670, 2 CDs, mid-price) is my benchmark for the new Simon Rattle recording (LSO Live) and he also recorded a fine account of the Suite, with Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba with the VPO (Decca 4785407, mid-price). By one of those ridiculous pricing paradoxes, both these recordings cost more as downloads than on CD, but his Supraphon recording of the Vixen Suite, etc., can be obtained for £9.59 as a lossless download.

It’s no fault of Mackerras or the SCO that their very enjoyable Hyperion recording of the symphonies of Arriaga and Voříšek is now available only from the Archive Service, though it can still be downloaded, with pdf booklet, for £7.99, from

It’s unusual for a conductor to specialise in such a variety of music. Sir Malcolm Sargent used to dominate the podium at the Proms many years ago, but, while he could turn his hand to most music and come up with a reliable result, his real successes covered a much smaller field, mostly of English music, apart from the occasional surprise – his Má Vlast remains one of my favourites (Classics for Pleasure 9689522, download only, budget price).

The ability to interpret the music of a variety of composers often hinges on the respect of all concerned for Bach, but the centres of Mackerras’ musical universe were Handel and Mozart. His two recordings of Messiah (DG Galleria and Warner), ground-breaking in their day, now sound somewhat dated – it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to re-record the work. The Fireworks music, revelatory recordings with the Concerti a due cori, are the stuff of legend – made at night because that was the only time that the cream of London players could come together as the Pro Arte Wind Ensemble (Testament SBT1253 or Fireworks, with other wind-band music, Beulah 8PD82 – DL News 2015/11 – download in lossless sound from Qobuz). More recently, Beulah’s The Essence of Mr Handel contains this Fireworks recording and other Handel music, including Concerto Grosso, Op.6/12, from the Boyd Neel Orchestra and Thurston Dart, and that too can be obtained in lossless sound from Qobuz for the same price that others charge for mp3.

One of the things that made Mackerras such a complete performer was that he applied his scholarly abilities to whatever he conducted. Before that Fireworks recording, no-one had attempted to bring together the size of forces that Handel had had at his disposal. That scholarship was also applied to his Mozart recordings, especially to the performance of his operas, but the record companies seemed reluctant to take his Mozart on, until Telarc did so. They recorded him in the symphonies and other orchestral music with the Prague Chamber Orchestra and also, crucially, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. His Zauberflöte and Così fan tutte with the SCO have survived in the catalogue complete (2CD80727 and 3CD80728), and the Figaro highlights recording, which Robert J Farr particularly liked – review – is now coupled with Don Giovanni highlights on 2CD80735 (around £9). The complete Figaro can be downloaded, but it’s over-expensive at almost £29 (no booklet). He also recorded The Magic Flute in English for Chandos (CHAN3121 – review).

Which brings us to Mackerras’ fruitful association with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the last twenty years of his life, and to these Mozart recordings in particular. It’s a less comprehensive selection than the Telarc series, beginning as it does with No.29 (1774). To be honest, there’s not much in the symphonies before that to get too excited about, apart, perhaps from No.25, the ‘little’ g minor, K183. Stanley Sadie in the New Grove characterises No.29 as a landmark, and Mackerras makes it sound like a little masterpiece. In his hands it’s elegant without sounding precious, and the livelier passages are given their due without trying to make them sound like the last great masterpieces which span CDs 3 and 4; I include even No.38, the ‘Prague’ as one of those masterpieces, as it’s made to sound here, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

Mackerras’ researches embraced the issues of tempo and performance style, so, though the SCO play modern instruments, the sound is as ‘authentic’ in everything that matters as the best period-instrument performances. That includes the observance of outer-movement repeats and, whilst the tempo is never allowed to drag, the music is never rushed. This is not ‘authentic’ Mozart in any dogmatic sense: Mackerras actually gives greater weight to the andante slow movement of No.29 than Benjamin Britten, whose award-winning 1971 recording with the English Chamber Orchestra represents some of the best of the older tradition (Decca 4767102, Presto special CD, or download, with No.25 and Serenata Notturna).

Overall, Mackerras’ take on No.29 is much closer to the period-instrument performance from The English Concert and Trevor Pinnock (DG Archiv 4716662, complete Mozart Symphonies, 11 CDs, budget price). There’s just one thing that I slightly miss by comparison with Pinnock – the rasp of period horns in the finale. If you don’t think that repeats are important, listen to Bruno Walter, one of the best old-school Mozartians, to whom I still listen with pleasure, who dashes off the opening movement of No.29 in less than five minutes, thus damaging the shape of the work (Sony G010004059719B, with Nos 25 and 28, download only).

I wish that Linn had run to an extra CD and found place for No.33 and No.34 in this collection. The nearest recording that I can think of in a style similar to that of Mackerras comes from the Academy of St Martin and Neville Marriner, but that’s download only and an expensive one at that (Warner 2435699525, Nos. 31, 33 and 34).

I’ve mentioned that Mackerras’ view of tempo is measured. Against the modern trend to take a faster tempo in general, as in No.29, he gives the slow movements time to develop. That’s the case in No.31, where, although Marriner’s Mozart is similar in many ways, Mackerras allows much more time for the andantino second movement to breathe, but the other movements are lithe, often enough to set the listener dancing – it’s no coincidence that Mackerras was also an adept ballet conductor. The inclusion of the alternative, shorter, slow movement at this point is a mixed blessing; it might have been better as an appendix to the CD or to the original 2-CD set.

With the Haffner and Linz symphonies (Nos. 35 and 36) we really begin to approach the peak. I used to be – still am – an admirer of Bruno Walter in Mozart, so, though an impecunious undergraduate, I couldn’t resist paying full price for Walter’s recording of the Haffner and Jupiter symphonies (CBS in the UK). Sitting in the rack with a shiny cover depicting a toy violin and the score, both bathed in rainbow light, how could it have been otherwise, though I hadn’t then read DC’s glowing review in Gramophone (5/62)? I even paid top price for it twice over – again when I could play it in stereo – and the CBS 2-CD reissue of Walter’s Mozart (M2YK45676, Nos. 35-36 and 38-41, with a much less attractive cover) still sits in an accessible place in the CD cabinet when so many other discs are lost at the back. Presto have a special CDR of Walter’s Nos. 35 and 39; the set, redistributed across 3 CDs, can be streamed and downloaded from Qobuz for £12.99, and the Sony Bruno Walter Collection includes both these and his earlier NYPO Mozart recordings for those prepared to outlay almost £300 and find room for 77 CDs (19075923242).

Mature Mozart can take the large-scale playing of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, still worth hearing alongside Mackerras. I’d hate to choose between them for my Desert Island. In a sense comparison is futile, partly because Walter was all over the place when it came to including or omitting repeats. Where comparison is possible, however, I’m surprised how little difference there is. From the opening movement of No.35, allegro con spirito, it’s apparent that a larger orchestra is involved under Walter, and the 1959 recording, though still good for its date, can’t compare with the Linn, but what Mackerras gives us is more like a revised version of Walter’s Mozart – a lither, livelier version, with even better playing than Walter obtained from the Columbia Orchestra, and better recorded. That means that we hear more of the inner detail, but it’s not a radical rethink of the movement.

Walter gives us the andante second movement in 5:17, where Mackerras takes 8:03. The Columbia playing is often surprisingly delicate for such a large orchestra, but figures are deceptive: it’s not that Mackerras dawdles through the movement, though he certainly doesn’t rush it, merely that the Linn recording gives the movement its full weight by observing the repeats. And, while Mackerras is certainly alive to the emotional heart of the music, he does so without the need to pull the tempo around as much as Walter.

I’m taken back to what I said of CKD350 in 2010: ‘Here is all the delicacy of Mozart but with his underlying strength, too. Bone china may be exquisitely fine, but it’s also extremely strong and the same is true of these works in Mackerras’s hands; the lossless download serves to emphasise the quality of the music and the performances’.

The issue of repeats is a matter of taste, but I tend to prefer the inclusion of them all, which is what Mackerras does. Sometimes the difference is considerable, as in the Linz, which assumes its proper proportions as a work of some significance on Linn, the outer movements especially assuming their status, particularly the finale, twice as long as from Walter, though at a basically faster tempo.

I was very terse about the earlier recordings of Nos. 38-41 in 2009, largely because Tony Hayward had said it all – review. Returning to that recording now, intending to play a movement at a time for comparison with Walter, I find that I'm unable to tear myself away from Mackerras’ Mozart, going on to play the whole symphony without pausing to compare – and the same applies to Walter when I turn to him. It’s almost sacrilege to try to compare two such fine Mozartians, but once again I found myself describing Mackerras as the spruced-up modern equivalent of Walter as opposed to some of the speed merchants of recent times.

I’ve already referred to No.38 as worthy of mention in the same breath as what has come to be regarded as his great trilogy. Composed for Prague, it reminds us that Mozart’s music was more greatly appreciated there than anywhere in the empire, even Vienna; you may have read the Mörike novelle Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag, which describes his journey there for the premiere of Don Giovanni. I’m pleased to see that Eugen Jochum’s Concertgebouw recording, originally on Philips, is still available, albeit as a download only; that has always been one of my old favourites (Decca Eloquence 4828414, with Nos. 35, 36 and 41 and Posthorn Serenade).

One of the reasons for regarding the Prague as a serious work comes from its use of a slow introduction, which mustn’t be either hurried or allowed to sound over-pompous. Listening to it again, as streamed in lossless sound, I still think that Jochum gets this about right, but, once again, the issue of repeats arises – all included by Mackerras, but not by Jochum or Walter. The result is that, though the introduction takes almost exactly the same time as from those earlier conductors, the movement gains in weight yet never outstays its welcome.

The slow introduction to No.39 has less need to sound serious – it’s more anticipatory, and that’s how Mackerras treats it. The minuet of No. 39 needs to sound alert, and to make the listener want to get up and dance – or, in my case, to wish that I could. They both go with a real lilt, but never too fast, and the rather more deliberate equivalent in No.40 also receives the best performance I ever recall hearing.

The real test comes in the final symphony, No.41, the Jupiter. We’ve recently been reminded that Mozart, even in such a majestic work, is capable of a variety of scales of interpretation: Hyperion’s Jupiter Project is a recording of chamber-size reductions of two overtures, two versions of Piano Concerto No.21, and Clementi’s arrangement of the Jupiter Symphony for piano, flute, violin and cello (CDA68234 – review). I wasn’t convinced enough to return regularly to that recording, but I was amazed that I didn’t rule it immediately out of court.

Haydn and Beethoven would continue to challenge each other after Mozart’s death, but it’s the Jupiter (1788) that opened the way for Haydn’s second set of ‘London’ symphonies (1792-95) and Beethoven’s Eroica (1803-04). There’s no lack of grandeur in Mackerras’ interpretation, as is apparent from the opening movement – allegro vivace, but not too vivace – where the observation of repeats again comes into its own. In some respects, this is even more replete with restless energy than from Walter, and the finale in particular benefits from the inclusion of almost 50% longer music than on the Columbia recording. Like the nickname of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ concerto, the ‘Jupiter’ tag seems to have originated in England, but Mackerras and the SCO remind us how appropriate it is. For his Beethoven cycle Mackerras abandoned the SCO for the larger Philharmonia, but the smaller ensemble shows itself perfectly capable of capturing the essence of Mozart at his grandest.

I didn’t review the original release of the Requiem on CKD211 SACD (now re-catalogued as BKD211, CD or download). That was made with a very impressive team of soloists: Susan Gritton is especially praiseworthy. Those accustomed to the usual Süssmayr completion may find the Levin edition a little unsettling, and it’s far from certain that it’s the final word. Perhaps the best solution is to give us the Süssmayr, shorn of its romantic accretions, and add appendices from the Levin and other recent editions, as on the King’s College, Cambridge, recording, KGS0002 SACD, which also includes passages in the Maunder and Finnissy editions – review.

While it adds to the attraction of the Linn reissue, this recording of the Requiem wouldn’t be my top choice. As it happens, Linn have another very fine recording up their sleeve, from John Butt and the Dunedin Consort; presented in David Black’s completion of the Süssmayr edition, it aims to reconstruct the first performance, at Mozart’s own funeral service in December 1791, with forces commensurate with those employed on that occasion. Originally released on SACD as CKD449, it’s now CD only (CKR449), but it can be downloaded from in hi-res versions. That would be one of my first choices – you can find my thoughts on it and some other recordings in DL News 2014/4 and on the King’s and several alternatives in DL News 2013/8.

The original releases of the symphonies were available on SACD and some dealers still advertise them in that format, though Linn have abandoned it for their new releases. The new set is CD only, but, like the older 2-CD releases of the symphonies, it can be obtained in a variety of download formats, from mp3 up to 24-bit, both 24/96 and the 24/192 which I reviewed. If you have a favourite recording of the Requiem, perhaps the other Linn recording, from John Butt, you may still prefer to choose the original 2-SACD releases while they remain available – and while the manufacturers are still offering the equipment to play them on at a reasonable price: the CD labels’ retreat from the format has been matched by a reduction in choice of players at under £2000.

That said, there’s nothing to complain of about the 24-bit downloads to which I listened for this review. While the booklet which comes with the reissue is not exactly generously proportioned, it does its job. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library will find the more fulsome originals there.

All in all, for insight into these symphonies, orchestral playing and recording quality, this 5-CD set is a must for anyone who didn’t rush out to buy the original releases.

Brian Wilson

Symphony No.29 in A, K201 [31:16]
Symphony No.31 in D ‘Paris’, K297 (with alternative second movement) [20:27]
Symphony No.32 in G, K318 [7:38]

CD 2
Symphony No.35 in D ‘Haffner’, K385 (1782) [20:30]
Symphony No.36 in C ‘Linz’, K425 (1783) [36:46]

CD 3
Symphony No.38 in D ‘Prague’, K504 (1786) [36:47]
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543 (1788) [30:02]

CD 4
Symphony No.40 in g minor, K550 (1788) [34:01]
Symphony No.41 in C ‘Jupiter’, K551 (1788) [38:28]

CD 5
Requiem in d minor, K626 (ed. Robert Levin) [46:52]
Adagio and Fugue in c minor, K546 [7:57]

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