Mozart Symphonies 2 - SCO & Sir Charles Mackerras - BBC Online

Following up their acclaimed 2008 Linn release of Mozart's final great quartet of  symphonies (its accolades include BBC Music Magazine Disc of the Year), Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have turned their attentions to five of Mozart's most substantial earlier essays in the form.

The same ingredients which made the previous release such a success abound again, but whereas the later symphonies come up against formidable competition in the catalogues, there is arguably even more call for these less-familiar works to be given the sparkling Mackerras/SCO treatment.

For many listeners the combination of a buoyant, historically-informed approach with the sumptuous, lithe sound of a crack modern-instrument band is a winning one - the best of both worlds. Never less than honeyed in tone, the strings use vibrato sparingly, as a subtle colouring device rather than a wearisome all-purpose wash. Speeds are consistently spritely (but never gabbled), textures are wonderfully clear, wind and brass vibrant. Repeats are taken routinely.

Each of the disc's five symphonies is a gem in its own right, milestones in Mozart's increasing maturity and confidence. Nearly a decade separates the beguiling, urbane No.29 from the dazzling ‘Linz', No.36 - a seminal period in which Mozart experienced musical wonders on journeys to Mannheim and Paris, and finally broke free from the shackles of court employment in parochial Salzburg to settle as a freelancer in the thriving hotbed of artistic creativity that was late 18th century Vienna.

In between is the ebullient No.31, the ‘Paris', the small-but-perfectly-formed No.32 and the joyous ‘Haffner', No.35. Ever the pragmatist, Mozart made various revisions to most of these symphonies after their composition. Most notable is the replacement Andante written for No.31 after the original proved unsuited to Parisian tastes. You can decide for yourself which you prefer - but be wary of simply playing the tracks in sequence or you will end up with a four-movement symphony with two slow movements, certainly not what Mozart intended.

The ever youthful 84-year-old Mackerras offers unique insights from a lifetime's devotion to Mozart, lavishing these magnificent works with as much love and commitment as he would later, ‘greater' scores. The glorious results are self-recommending.


BBC Online
20 March 2010