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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No 32 Ouvertüre [8:58]
Symphony No 33 [19:47]
Symphony No 35 Haffner [16:50]
Symphony No 36 Linzer [26:39]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan
rec. August 1965, St. Moritz (33), May 1976 (35) October 1977 (32 & 36), Philharmonie, Berlin
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 435 070-2 [72:14]

This Presto re-issue is simply the first of the three-CD set “Mozart: Late Symphonies” which was repackaged many times first by DG then Universal. It is unashamedly Big Band Mozart, beautifully played but by no means “smoothed over” (it almost pains me to repeat the hoariest of clichés concerning Karajan’s style); you have only to listen to the Mephistophelian glee with which Karajan pushes his players in the Presto finale of the Haffner to concede that no orchestra before or since – period or not - could play with such verve and precision at that speed; it’s thrilling stuff, enhanced by some thunderous timpani recorded in a big, warm acoustic. The contrast with the stately grandeur of the opening of the Linzer which follows is all the more telling. Yes, the ensuing Andante and Menuetto are all powdered wigs and glittering chandeliers – and all the better for it. A second Presto finale features more impressive prestidigitation from the swirling strings and we go out on a high; it was very rarely that Karajan “phoned in” a performance.

I had forgotten what a glittering showpiece the KV 318 one-movement Ouvertüre is, full of rhetorical flourishes and sharp contrasts in tempi and dynamics; Karajan and the BPO revel in all that variety packed into nine minutes – and again, contrasts satisfyingly with what follows – the lighter, more intimate KV 319 (No 33); indeed, it is astonishing how much this one disc reflects the diversity of Mozart’s style and Karajan’s direction ensures that each piece has its own, unique character. No 33 is not, perhaps, as inspired a work as its three companions on this disc, but it is given the best advocacy here. The opening of the Haffner transports us into a higher plane of creativity and Karajan has the BPO really lay into it; this is a celebration of what an orchestra can do. This might be an extroverted, festive piece but subtleties are never ignored; I love the way Karajan leans into the key change at 2:48 in the Allegro con spirito and the tripping Andante is wonderfully elegant.

What splendid sound Karajan’s engineer Michael Glotz achieved in that analogue era, faithfully capturing the heft and grunt of that bass section. The sound of No 33 taped in St Moritz is slightly brighter and less opaque than the warmer Philharmonie recordings but the discrepancy is marginal. Notes are provided in no fewer than five languages, the English essay being by eminent musicologist, critic and editor Stanley Sadie.

I am by no means averse to historically informed Mozart as long as the phrasing is not too clipped and the strings don’t whine and produce vinegary sound; anyone who knows Karajan will know what to expect before purchasing this and if not, then they are in for a pleasant surprise – although I advise acquiring the whole set rather than just this one disc. As far as I am concerned, there will always be room on my shelves for Mozart played this way and I enjoy every second of it; this is the sound civilisation makes.

Ralph Moore

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