Mozart: Symphonies Nos 40 & 41 (NDR/Manze)

NDR Radiophilharmonie/Andrew Manze (Pentatone)

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CD_5186757_Mozart

Mozart
Symphonies Nos 40 & 41
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Andrew Manze
Pentatone PTC 5186 757 (hybrid CD/SACD)   74:47 mins

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It’s become quite fashionable to do Mozart’s last two symphonies with all the repeats, making them into imposing edifices lasting nearly 40 minutes apiece. Certainly, in the case of the Jupiter Symphony the finale’s second-half repeat can be justified since its inclusion throws greater weight onto the coda when it eventually arrives, with its famous contrapuntal combination of all five themes. Played in this way the finale becomes the crowning glory not only of this work, but of symphonic thought altogether up to its time.

Andrew Manze’s interpretations justify the repeats elsewhere, too. In his hands, the opening bars of the G minor Symphony No. 40 acquire greater expressive urgency the second time through, as though the drama of the intervening music had rubbed off on them; while, conversely, the slow movement’s second subject is more quiet and mysterious on the repeat, adding a new dimension to the music. One or two of Manze’s other interpretative ideas made me sit up: the way he handles the astonishingly angry start of the central development section in No. 40’s finale, making it sound even more disjointed than it already is (the second time through, once the cat’s been let out of the bag, so to speak, he has the same passage played in tempo); or the long pause he makes before the onset of the coda in the Jupiter ’s finale, stressing the music’s mysterious, otherworldly character.

For someone who had such a long career as a period-instrument violinist, Manze’s interpretations with the NDR Radiophilharmonie (of which he is now principal conductor) are surprisingly Romantic – and none the worse for that. To make the two most famous among all 18th-century symphonies sound so fresh is no mean feat. I enjoyed these performances immensely.

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Misha Donat