Mozart: Symphony No. 39; Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: St Luke’s Collection
WORKS: Symphony No. 39; Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)
PERFORMER: Orchestra of St Luke’s/Donald Runnicles
CATALOGUE NO: SLC 3001 (distr. +1 212 594 6100; www.orchestraofstlukes.org)
As the recently appointed principal conductor of the Orchestra of St Luke’s, Donald Runnicles follows in the footsteps of Charles Mackerras, so it’s a fair bet the players already had stylish Mozart interpretation in their blood when he arrived. Certainly, this new recording – the first to appear on the orchestra’s own label – offers highly enjoyable performances of two of Mozart’s greatest symphonies, even if neither gets off to a perfect start: the timpanist is early on the very first downbeat of No. 39, and in the Jupiter one of the first violins makes a tentative wrong entry in the pause that follows the initial flourish (it’s very faint, but definitely there). These, however, are uncharacteristic lapses, and the Jupiter, in particular, is quite beautifully judged throughout, with a warm and deeply felt response to its great slow movement, and a brilliantly transparent account of the famous contrapuntal finale.

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Runnicles is somewhat less persuasive in No. 39, where the Andante’s passionate F minor episode is a little lacking in drama and urgency, while the minuet is rather hard-driven. There’s a good deal more lilt in the minuet’s trio in the classic account by Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. In the Jupiter, too, Szell offers a sparkling alternative to Runnicles, managing to point up the wit in the first movement’s ironically simple closing subject with admirable subtlety. As always, though, Szell is as stingy as can be when it comes to the question of repeats. Misha Donat