Mozart: Symphony No. 38 (Prague); Symphony No. 40

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 38 (Prague); Symphony No. 40
PERFORMER: Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Ivor Bolton
With 70-odd available recordings of these symphonies covering every conceivable performing style, new revelations are likely to prove elusive. But if you want a version from a trim, responsive modern-instrument chamber orchestra that takes note of period style (lean-toned violins, properly divided left and right, nicely rasping horns, timpani played with hard wooden sticks), then Ivor Bolton and his Salzburgers have a lot in their favour. Bolton chooses sensible tempos: both 6/8 Andantes move fluently, yet never at the expense of graceful detail. And he encourages expressive yet – save for the odd slightly precious echo effect – natural-sounding phrasing. And his ear for balance and inner voices, allied to the superb Mozarteum acoustic, makes for textures as lucid as on any of the period-instrument recordings. You can hear every strand of Mozart’s miraculous polyphonic weave in the first-movement development of the Prague and the outer movements of No. 40. That said – and it ultimately boils down to individual taste – I did find Bolton’s readings of both first movements a shade lacking in tension and drive. In the later work he doesn’t ratchet up the intensity in the development and recapitulation as some conductors do. And for all its clarity and precision, the opening Allegro of the Prague doesn’t quiver and blaze as it can – and does in the thrilling performance from Charles Mackerras and the Prague Chamber Orchestra (Telarc). On modern instruments (and at mid-price), Mackerras – tauter, fierier and more sinewy than Bolton – is also my choice for No. 40. But if you prefer a more relaxed, elegant view of Mozart, this finely played, superbly recorded new disc might be just the answer. Richard Wigmore