Mozart Symphonies 2 - SCO & Sir Charles Mackerras - The Times

Spring may be slow to arrive this year, but you can always get a shot of energy by listening to five Mozart symphonies conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. An earlier batch performed with the same forces, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, collected several trophies and was voted Disc of the Year by BBC Music Magazine. The second instalment, attractively packaged, offers symphonies 29, 31, 32, 35 and 36, and scales the same heights of achievement in a similar way.

Linn Records' recipe isn't abstruse. It just needs an 84-year-old conductor with lifelong experience of Mozart, teamed with a youthful, highly skilled and sympathetic orchestra with many shared Mozart experiences. Plus a lithe and bouncy performance style, featuring strong dynamic contrasts, little string vibrato, extreme clarity - the hallmarks, almost, of a period instrument band. And, of course, there's the genius of Mozart, on full display in the Haffner, Linz and Paris symphonies, as well as No 29, a turning point in the composer's development.

The Haffner is the king of this pack. Mackerras explores its shapes and textures with particular care. Opening and closing movements crackle with electricity. Everything comes stamped with character, intelligence and beauty.

Mackerras the musicologist is on display as well as Mackerras the magician. Faced with the Paris symphony, No 31, most conductors choose the second of its two alternate slow movements (the first had prompted complaints from the work's Parisian commissioner - too many modulations, he said). Mackerras gives us both of them, side by side. With its wider dramatic range and varied colours, the replacement movement remains preferable, but it's still a joy to hear Mozart's first thoughts. If Mackerras were conducting, it would even be a joy to hear Mozart cough.

The Times
12 March 2010