Mozart: Symphony No. 40; Symphony No. 41

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Archiv
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Symphony No. 40; Symphony No. 41
PERFORMER: Les Musiciens du Louvre/ Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5798
As you might expect from Marc Minkowski’s operatic background, he takes a highly dramatic view of these symphonies, sometimes at the expense of coherence and ensemble. The opening of the first movement of No. 40 is distinctly rocky, and it threatens to come off the rails more than once, not only through poor ensemble, but instability of tempo as well. It must have been exciting for the audience in Grenoble (these are live recordings, in a resonant acoustic), but it’s rather too disconcerting for repeated listening – Pinnock (on Archiv) is more reliable.

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On the plus side there’s the usual distinctive sound that Minkowski gets from his band, with acutely judged balance between the gut strings and the characterful wind (a special prize to the first bassoon). The slow movements of both symphonies draw the long line with unerring purpose and beauty of sound, phrasing and dynamics working together to articulate the overall shape. As for the minuets, there’s pointed elegance in the Jupiter, and drive in No. 40, though I wish that the trio held the same tempo. Again, both have the odd ensemble problem, but these are almost completely absent in the finales – the Jupiter takes a few bars to get going but then settles into strong and sustained vigour, underpinned by a rock-solid bass line. A pity that the first movement is so stately in tempo, something which isn’t offset by the powerful playing. I’d go for the lighter touch of Immerseel, stylish, imaginative, and getting right inside the music. Martin Cotton