WORKS: Symphony No. 31 (Paris),; Symphony No. 34; Symphony No. 35 (Haffner); Symphony No. 36 (Linz); Symphony No. 38 (Prague); Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)
PERFORMER: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: 2292 45857-2 DDD
Ton Koopman proclaims ‘the performance of fifty of his (Mozart’s) symphonies by my Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra’ as ‘without doubt’ one of the main events of the Mozart year, 1991. Those of us who missed them will not greatly temper our natural scepticism after hearing these late trumpet-and-drum masterpieces in C major or D major.
The players are indeed excellent but Koopman’s generally ‘Baroque’ style is hardly the last word in authenticity. He justifies his small string group by orchestral norms of the time; fair enough, but while Mozart’s delight in a large string group was specified in relation to the Paris Symphony, he surely would have liked larger forces for equally weighty, brilliant pieces like the Prague and Jupiter. Balance is less a problem in forte than in lyrical passages, where the strings sound, well, stringy. And in the slow movement of the Jupiter lush string decoration is lost beneath the sustained wind.
Another drawback is excessive resonance. This is doubtless exciting in live performance (each symphony is followed by ecstatic applause), but the double beat of the thundering drum is too crude for a recording. The intricate counterpoint of the Jupiter finale is far from ideally balanced, although here lucidity does not militate against excitement – on the contrary it increases it. Which is not to dismiss the set out of hand. Six symphonies with nearly all repeats on two discs represents excellent value. The lively ‘modern’ tempi in the Andantes are not exaggerated and the Mozartian shadows remain (for instance in the Linz). Some of the Allegros are electrifying. Julian Rushton