WORKS: Symphony No. 30 K202; Symphony No. 31 K297 (Paris); Symphony No. 32 K318; Symphony No. 33 K319
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 432 977-2 DDD
These recordings make an intriguing contrast. Harnoncourt, virulently opposed to the museum concept of authenticity, works increasingly with modern-instrument ensembles, while retaining contact with this period-instrument group. Yet his style of interpretation is not unlike that of Davis who, so far as I am aware, has never performed with ‘period’ orchestras.
Harnoncourt is right, of course, that musical archaeology will never produce musical performance, and he has tended to thrust drama and expressiveness to the foreground in his Mozart opera performances.
These early symphonies provide less scope for that, but they emerge glitteringly precocious and abrasively fresh (you may wish to reduce the volume). Harnoncourt is excellent for these early works but I am glad to have Davis in the later, and greater, ones, and four symphonies is excellent value even though No. 32 is really an overture. He gauges tempi finely to suit the relatively large orchestra employed (though it is surely no larger than Mozart is known to have wanted for the Paris Symphony). The serene sensitivity of the slow movements, the wit of the Allegros — notably the little-known No. 30 in D major, a real charmer — and the vitality of dance rhythms are crucial ingredients which Davis, among the greatest living Mozartians, can be relied upon to supply; the choice of period or modern instrumentation (aside from such details as the use of a continuo, which Davis clearly regards as unnecessary) reflects a preference for particular colours.
If you are lucky you will enjoy both these records without worrying about which is ‘right’. Julian Rushton