Related Reviews
iTunes
Named number 8 in: iTunes top 30 classical albums
more >>
The Observer
'Mozart's last four symphonies...have rarely shone as luminously as in these uplifting accounts.'
more >>
The SCOTS Magazine
'...a lasting momento of a tremendous association.'
more >>
allmusic.com
"They have the same drive and verve as his earlier work, but his vision now seems clearer and more radiant than before."
more >>
Audiophilia.com
"...once playing, it is almost impossible to turn off!"
more >>
ResMusica.com
une présentation exceptionnellement belle
more >>
6moons.com
Blue Moon Award: "...Sir Charles Mackerras' vision with the SCO is one of the very finest of the modern era..."
more >>
StereoMojo
Publisher’s Choice Recording: "complete mastery...One can only say bravo."
more >>
The Berkshire Review
"...the greatest interpretation of the Mozart symphonies of our moment..."
more >>
Qantas in-flight magazine
Original passsion and flair...Outstanding.
more >>
Sunday Times
Number 1 Classical Record of 2008
more >>
HMV Choice
Number 1 Classical Record of 2008
more >>
AudioVideoHD
5 Stars
"En definitiva, una auténtica delicia, con una grabación exquisita, característica intrínseca de Linn Records."
more >>
Fanfare
"Magnificent."
more >>
Star Ledger of New Jersey
4 Stars
"...blending period style with modern virtuosity."
more >>
Classica Repertoire
"Nous aimons...beaucoup"
more >>
LiveGuide.com
"These may be the best versions of Symphonies 38 and 39 ever recorded..."
more >>
Crescendo
An "admirable" performance
more >>
Scherzo
'Excepcional' Award from the Spanish publication
more >>
MusicWeb International
Recording of the Month: "...a benchmark of our time."
more >>
Expansion
'Mozart vive!'
more >>
hi-fi +
4½ Stars
Quite brilliant...truly majestic.
more >>
Opus Musica
Disc of the Month
more >>
Early Music Review
...powerful, individual readings.
more >>
Klassik.com
5 Stars
So gelingt gleichsam unter der Hand Mozart-Interpretationen, die man zu den überzeugendsten dieser Sinfonien zählen darf.
more >>
Gramophone
Every bit as good as you would expect. Gramophone Recommended.
more >>
HiFi News
Album of the Month
more >>
The Ticket (Ireland)
4 Stars
simply irresistible
more >>
The Guardian (Live)
5 Stars
Mackerras's Mozart is full of the life-affirming vitality more often associated with youth
more >>
International Record Review
A vibrant and utterly gripping appearance from first moment to last, and all caught in sound that is amazingly lifelike. No Mozartian should be without these inspiring discs.
more >>
audiophile.no
5 Stars
Linn Records har spilt inn Mozart sine fire siste symfonier. Til denne oppgaven har de selvfølgelig håndplukket Scottish Chamber Orchestra dirigert av Sir Charles Mackerras.
more >>
McAlister Matheson Music
A recording of "delicacy and spice...grandeur and exuberance"
more >>
Audiophile Audition
4 Stars
some spectacular readings in first class sonics
more >>
The Scotman (Live)
4 Stars
"...power-packed Mozart that has you sitting on the edge of your seat craving more."
more >>
Atlanta Audio Society
...Performances that may well take their place among the best on record.
more >>
The Times
5 Stars
among the very best recordings of these four symphonies on disc
more >>
BBC Music Magazine
5 Stars
Orchestral Disc of the Month: "exhilarating ... ravishing"
more >>
The List
4 Stars
exciting and thrilling
more >>
MusicOMH.com
5 Stars
Anyone who loves classical music has to own this recording...this will be one of the year's finest recordings.
more >>
The Observer
Mozart's last four symphonies...have rarely shone as luminously as in these uplifting accounts.
more >>
Independent on Sunday
...Few recordings have the authority and warmth of this release.
more >>
The Herald
5 Stars
This will have you out of your seat with excitement...a Mozart set to match any.
more >>
The Week
5 Stars
...Astonishing...
more >>
Financial Times
...Sheer vitality...
more >>
BBC Online
This recording should have you stampeding to the record shops.
more >>
Metro
5 Stars
Pure delight.
more >>
SA-CD.net
5 Stars
I can't imagine Mozart being better performed...a wonderful set that will remain long in the memory.
more >>
The Sunday Times
5 Stars
Classical CD of the Week: Possibly their finest record to date...I don't know more enthralling accounts of the G minor and the Jupiter on disc.
more >>
ClassicsTodayFrance.com
4½ Stars
An outstanding review for the orchestral recording
more >>
The Guardian
5 Stars
These are the finest versions of Mozart's greatest symphonies to have appeared on disc in years.
more >>
ClassicalSource.com
Beautifully judged...exciting listening
more >>

Mozart Symphonies - SCO & Sir Charles Mackerras - MusicalCriticism.com


03 March 2008
MusicalCriticism.com
Dominic McHugh
4 Stars

Over the last four weeks, this new recording of Mozart's final four symphonies by Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra has enjoyed lavish praise from all the newspaper critics, almost without exception in fact. The Times, Sunday Times, Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph and no doubt various others have described it as either the best account or equal to the best accounts of the works on record and awarded it five stars across the board.

For me the story isn't quite so simple, because here we have four very different and very difficult works; some of them really are performed with extraordinary results, but some of them aren't so persuasive.

Now in his ninth decade, Mackerras knows his Mozart back to front and has recorded some of these works several times already; his collaboration with the SCO goes back many years and has already reaped numerous excellent Mozart recordings.

Yet to me, Sir Charles also seems like a man in a great hurry, which can be both enthralling and unsettling. For instance, the lively tempo for the Allegro of the first movement of the 'Prague' Symphony (No. 38 in D, K.504) is the perfect foil for the grave Adagio it follows, but the Finale is rushed: the marking may be Presto but the ambitious tempo at which Mackerras embarks on the movement is not always maintained, causing the musicians to speed up again occasionally to compensate, and one can feel sometimes that by having to rush, the musicians (especially the wind instruments) lose the breadth of expressivity they show in their gorgeous rendition of the Andante.

Nor am I entirely convinced by Symphony No 39 in E flat, K.543, which finds Mozart at his most sublime - but not Mackerras. The Allegro of the first movement leans too heavily on the timpani and lower strings at the expense of the clarinet, a surprise in light of Sir Charles' mention of that instrument's limpid and serene timbre in his brief but interesting essay in the liner booklet. Even more surprising is the matter-of-fact quality of the Andante con moto, which Mackerras seems not to want to be a 'slow' movement. To my ears it's just too fast and jaunty an interpretation, especially the dotted rhythms in the main theme which could be a lot smoother; a shame, because the darker colours of the central section come out with a riveting intensity that probably outdoes any other recording I can put my hands on. Similarly, the Trio is beautifully played, but the Menuetto is too heavily done, with such an emphasis on the bass that the music seems to jerk along. Assuming it's not just a fault on my copy of the CD, there's also a small but clearly audible squeaky background noise (from a chair in the studio?) at 3'29, which really ought to have been removed; otherwise, in general I find the sound excellent and vibrant. The Finale is far more compelling, again played at quite a lick but still allowing plenty of nuance from the impeccable SCO strings and woodwinds.

On to the great Symphony in G minor, K.550, and more surprises are in store. Reactions to this performance will perhaps vary according to personal taste: does it bother you that Mackerras avoids the dark colours traditionally associated with the outer movements? Speaking personally, it does. Far from being the most entrancing recording of this symphony currently available, the first movement in particular strikes me instead as curiously snatched-at, raced-through and homogenised. A work normally nail-biting in its force is played with far less stress on the accented dissonances than is often the case, and the slurs which pervade the main theme could be far more clearly articulated. I just long for an edge-of-the-seat excitement which is never delivered. On the other hand, the slow movement is beautifully played, the lush wind colours coming through beautifully, the distinctive timbre of the natural horns blending well with the carefully handled string vibrato (Mackerras' approach mixes modern and period styles, often to great effect, though the timbre of a period orchestra using gut strings and so on is inevitably absent). Towards 8'00 there's again a tendency to rush, but the range of colours more than makes up for it. However, I find the Minuet very disappointing, taken at a one-in-a-bar pace and very choppily articulated, rather than having the character of a court dance. The biggest problem is that, once again, the orchestra does not maintain the ambitious tempo of the beginning, and the Trio is much slower (to its enhancement, in fact: the musicians can actually enjoy the elegant horn, cello, flute and clarinet interplay, all of which is missed in the Menuetto). Again, the Finale is extremely fast in tempo, which will be to some people's taste, but to me there's such a scramble to keep up that some detail and refinement is lost; I find particularly that the second two bars of each phrase of the first theme (the turn-like figure) is nearly always faster than the first two, and not necessarily to expressive effect. One can only marvel at the talents of the players of the SCO, who achieve some remarkable moments, and Mackerras achieves some lovely introspection in the quieter passages - a stunning clarinet solo, for instance - but on the whole I feel that various conductors from previous decades have got to the heart of this piece more convincingly than Mackerras, even if they don't have his insight regarding performance practice.

For me, the 'Jupiter' Symphony gets the best rendition of the four on this disc. The sheer exuberance of Mackerras' approach to Mozart suits this glorious C major symphony to perfection. He leads the Scottish players in a fantastic game of musical fun, creating a performance of uplifting dynamic contrasts, relishing Mozart's textural invention and bringing out all kinds of hitherto unnoticed details. The loving approach to the Andante makes this as satisfying a performance of the movement as you could hope to hear, with vibrato used as an expressive tool in the strings and the wind instruments creating tension and spiciness. Both here and in the Menuetto, it helps that Mackerras opts for tempos which, if not exactly slow, are slower than the outer movements and create the contrasts between movements which the composer surely intended. The sway of the Menuetto is literally delicious, enhanced by the natural trumpets in the Trio, while the Finale really is as thrilling as any Mozart symphonic recording I've heard. The excellent close recording of the instruments allows Mackerras to retain the orchestra's chamber configuration and the free abandon that a small number of excellent players can create. Has the devilishly tricky fugal development ever been so blisteringly performed? I doubt it; and even the movement's problematic coda is sailed through with apparent ease and logic here.

Mackerras remains one of my favourite conductors, his ability to convince in any repertoire from Handel to Martinu, Mozart to Verdi and Beethoven to Janacek surely unrivalled by any other living conductor, and I cannot wait for his Covent Garden Figaro and Don Giovanni this year. But while the best of this bargain-priced two-disc set really is as good as it gets, the middle two symphonies in particular should perhaps be approached with a more critical ear than has so far been the case in some quarters.


Bookmark and Share


Related Links

Scottish Chamber OrchestraScottish Chamber Orchestra
Mozart: Symphonies 38 - 41Mozart: Symphonies 38 - 41