Mozart – Symphonies Nos. 39 & 40

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Symphonies Nos. 39 & 40
PERFORMER: Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901959

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As with his previous recording of the Prague and Jupiter, René Jacobs brings his formidable operatic flair to bear on these symphonic masterpieces. His account of the opening movement of the great G minor Symphony No. 40 is as intensely dramatic as any you are likely to hear, while the slow movement in both these works is admirably warm and lyrical.

But Jacobs is a conductor who does not fight shy of imposing his own personality on the music, and there are eccentricities here that are hard to swallow in such famous pieces.

Most bizarre among them is his insertion of a bar’s rest into the middle of the main theme during the repeat of the finale’s first stage – a dramatic intrusion that seriously disturbs the music’s symmetry; but scarcely less curious is the ‘squeezed’ rhythm Jacobs introduces into the da capo of the minuet, as though this were some  piece of Baroque galanterie.  

As for the minuet of Symphony No. 39, Jacobs takes it at tremendous speed, with no hint of the gracefulness that’s usually associated with the piece. Listeners familiar with the work will also be taken aback by its ending, where Jacobs applies a sudden diminuendo, allowing the music to fade away.

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It’s true that Mozart’s emphatic ending can sometimes sound abrupt, but the effect is surely intentional. All in all, then, a mixed bag. For a less interventionist view of these works, Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are firmly recommended. Misha Donat