Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A, 35 in D (Haffner); Symphony No. 38 in D (Prague)

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Symphony No. 29 in A, 35 in D (Haffner); Symphony No. 38 in D (Prague)
PERFORMER: RPO/Thomas Beecham
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4027-2 ADD mono
Since Beecham’s Mozart symphonies are less consistently represented on disc than his Haydn, and since this most characterful of conductors really did believe that Mozart was ‘the greatest musician yet born into the world’, this is essential listening. He conducted the Prague Symphony more than any of the others, and it is an astonishingly detailed interpretation. Of its time, undoubtedly, in the many deliberate gear-changes – like Strauss the conductor, Beecham likes to slow down on the approach to first-movement counter-subjects – it remains irreproachable on the level of articulation; never, in my experience, have the slow introduction or the Andante stood up to so much painstaking examination. There’s an altogether more serious, subtle intellect at work here than the slightly orotund knight who introduces two of the three featured symphonies might suggest.

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The Haffner is, appropriately, more extrovert – though no less detailed (listen to the elegant distinction between smooth and staccato first violin runs near the beginning) and with a quirkily leisurely minuet that offsets the brilliant finale all the better. No. 29 was recorded nearly a decade earlier, in March 1949, and it shows; though occasional congestion in all three recordings never really affects the textures, nicely balanced throughout. Beecham’s Mozart may sound over-nuanced to purists, but great creative conducting it remains. David Nice