WORKS: Symphony No. 29; Symphony No. 31; Symphony No. 32; Symphony No. 33; Symphony No. 34; Symphony No. 35; Symphony No. 36; Symphony No. 38; Symphony No. 39; Symphony No. 40; Symphony No. 41
PERFORMER: English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 442 604-2 DDD
Philips’s repackaging of Gardiner’s sophisticated Mozart symphonies offers all the usual qualities of period instruments: the immediacy of gut strings and reduced-vibrato articulation, rustic sounding woodwind, precariously exciting natural brass and the unmistakable ‘thwack’ of hard sticks on the timpani.
Taken individually, the five discs are not, alas, of equal merit. The first — Symphonies Nos 29 and 33 — is a clear winner. The typically elegant pointing of die second subject in the first movement of No. 29 is a delight. The central movements of No. 33 could be caressed a little more but die finale, here so redolent of Rossini, is sheer foot-tapping magic.
Mozart’s D and C major grandeur gets the full treatment on the second disc, with horns sounding on the run from Der Rosenkavalier. The alternative Andante of the Paris is phrased with extraordinary tenderness, and the agility of the woodwind (oboes, especially) in the finale of No. 34 ensures a boisterous conclusion.
The third disc strikes me as being the ‘dud’ of the set. Despite a performance of the litde Overture/ Symphony No. 32 which achieves moments of Beethovenian heroism, the Haffherand Linz symphonies are too bland. Beecham and, famously, Bruno Walter bring greater humanity to the Linz which, in Gardiner’s hands, is insufficiendy relaxed and uninhibited.
The Prague is given a suitably dramatic, Don Giovanni-related reading but the slow movement of No. 39 lacks affection and its finale the kind of excitement that Bernstein engenders.
The G minor (No. 40) is played very beautifully but too tamely. There is no despairing recklessness in this reading. The Jupiter, however, is a model of jubilation, its finale exuberant enough to revive the most jaded of spirits.
These are performances safe enough to live with (more so than rival period versions from Hogwood and Briiggen) and recommendable without hesitation to collectors too ‘historically correct’ to appreciate Klemperer, Karajan or Bernstein. David Wilkins