Mozart: Symphony No. 38 (Prague); Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Symphony No. 38 (Prague); Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)
PERFORMER: Feiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901958
René Jacobs has made some impressive opera recordings in the past, but I’m not sure that his undeniable dramatic talents are equally suited to the expounding of large-scale symphonic structures. Shortly before he embarked on the Jupiter, Mozart wrote a comic aria for insertion into an opera by the Italian composer Pasquale Anfossi, and one of the aria’s tunes appears in the Symphony’s opening movement. The quotation is definitely tonguein- cheek, but to Jacobs its extramusical significance is clearly greater than its function within its symphonic context, and in order to point up its wit he slows down for it markedly, before shifting gear again for the exposition’s forceful closing bars. Mozart introduces the same quotation at the start of the development, and then proceeds to expand its closing phrase into a closely-knit symphonic argument. Here, too, Jacobs presents the tune itself in a slower tempo, after which there’s an ungainly accelerando for the developmental passage – for all the world as though the two were separate entities.

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No less tiresome than Jacobs’s tempo fluctuations (there are more in the minuet and trio, as well as the finale’s famous coda) are his fussy dynamics. In particular, his mannerism of indulging in a sudden

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piano followed by a crescendo in almost every tutti of more than 16 bars both cheapens the music, and diminishes its intensity. The Prague Symphony fares somewhat better than the Jupiter , but Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert offer period-instrument performances of much greater coherence and integrity. Misha Donat