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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, KV 543 (1788) [27:27]
Symphony No. 41 in C, KV 551 (Jupiter) (1788) [28:00]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417 (Tragic) (1816) [27:12]
Symphony No. 6 in C, D. 589 (Little C Major) (1817-18) [28:00]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon: Overture (1825-6) [8:10]
London Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Walter Susskind (D. 417), Antal Doráti (Weber)
rec. Watford Town Hall, 1958, (Weber) 1962
ELOQUENCE 484 0353 [55:36 + 63:37]

I was wracking my brain trying to remember Decca LP releases of any of this material. Then I saw, among the booklet credits: "Original Mercury Living Presence releases...." Of course, these originally appeared on Mercury LPs: I even remember seeing the domestic Schubert LP, way back when. Interestingly, Doráti was scheduled for the 1958 sessions, but became ill; Schmidt-Isserstedt and Susskind were quickly recruited in his place.

Schmidt-Isserstedt's big-orchestra Mozart presents the two faces of Janus. The E-flat Symphony is sturdy and sedate, not to say inert, with the large string section minimizing the finale's textural contrasts. The Jupiter sounds altogether more vital and animated, with brighter colours and, in the finale, clearer back-and-forth handoffs than usual. In the first movement, the strings manage to obscure the trumpets, no small feat. Only the Andante cantabile reverts to dullness, with wheezy wind punctuations.

The two Schubert performances are remarkably similar: both conductors favour flowing, unfussy tempi - faster than Böhm's (DG), if you need a comparison - and simple, lyrical phrasing. Susskind gets the drama in the C minor's outer movements. The Andante sounds right at first, though the sixteenth-notes later on feel pushed. In the imposing Menuetto, the conductor moves straight into the Trio in tempo, without a pause; the finale's second theme is genial. Schmidt-Isserstedt's well-sprung Sixth highlights dynamic contrasts, although still neglecting colour changes. The Andante is rollicking, which isn't necessarily wrong; the problematic finale is just patient enough, though the exposition feels abbreviated without its repeat. (Both conductors skip all repeats except those in the minuets.)

Doráti, in his turn, recorded the Oberon overture in leftover session time in 1962, bringing this particular release full circle. The performance is alert, which mightn't be your preferred adjective for the introduction's magical woodwinds, but the taut, incisive violin runs are thrilling. The sound here is clearer and more immediate than in the symphonies, which sound veiled - in the Mozart symphonies, I'd always blamed that on the Quintessence LP mastering. Apparently not.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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