Mozart: Symphonies Nos 29, 33, 35 (Haffner), 38 (Prague) and 41 (Jupiter)

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WORKS: Symphonies Nos 29, 33, 35 (Haffner), 38 (Prague) and 41 (Jupiter)
PERFORMER: Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 477 7598


Claudio Abbado has decided to go the whole hog with the ‘historically informed’ movement for his latest Mozart recording, with mixed results. He has formed yet another new orchestra, this time in Bologna, and has persuaded his string players to abandon any hint of vibrato. There seem to be very few of them, too, in relation to the wind section, which predominates and quite often makes the strings inaudible. When they can be heard, the sound they produce is thin and wiry. The overall effect, especially of the huge Prague Symphony and the Jupiter, is curiously aggressive, with fierce unprepared crescendo, and explosive attack on some chords, well beyond the call of taste or duty. Tempos tend to be brisk too, so that Andante movements – it does after all mean ‘walking’ – move at a pace that soon had me out of breath. The obvious comparison with this set (though Abbado has picked two earlier symphonies and not recorded the 39th or 40th), is Charles Mackerras’s recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra released last year. The size of the orchestras, the tempos, the taking of repeats (except that Abbado doesn’t repeat the sections of the minuets the second time round) are very similar, but the impression is extraordinarily different. With Mackerras there is sometimes mischief, wit, and more important warmth and exuberance. None of those crucial components in Mozart’s artistic make-up is to be found in this dazzling but unloving set. Michael Tanner