Mozart 40 & 41/Douglas Boyd

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony No.41 in C, K551

Manchester Camerata
Douglas Boyd

Recorded on 4 February 2006 in The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: August 2006
AV 2107
Duration: 64 minutes

The first two and a half bars of Symphony 40 immediately give two pointers regarding what to expect. Firstly the tempo is ideally fast – a true Molto allegro as the booklet and many scores have it (other scores denote Allegro molto). The tempo is virtually as fast as the thrilling speed adopted by Furtwängler in his Vienna Philharmonic recording. Less exciting is the expressive, but unmarked crescendo in which the opening phrases are played (Mozart required the whole passage to be piano). No matter, there is fire here and the balancing is immaculate. What a pity however that Boyd uses the revised score. Those two added clarinets always have the effect of smoothing out the drama. They detract from the cutting edge of the many thrusting oboe melodies and lower the tension. I have never understood why Mozart should have made this revision. Even in the 1948 sound provided for Furtwängler where the winds do not have the presence of the new recording, the original wind scoring provides the ideal texture for this angry music.

Given this proviso the performance keeps the attention and the flowing slow movement convinces at a swift but controlled pace, but then comes the Minuet and – oh dear! The movement commences at a most uncomfortably fast pace. This is not the Allegretto that my edition of the score, all written references to hand and all the recordings of the work in my possession give as the tempo marking. Full marks to Avie however – for realising the nature of the performance, so the booklet calls it Allegro anyway! Mind you, that state of affairs does not last: at the start of the Trio there is an illogical hesitation and the Trio enters, not only four beats late but at a grossly reduced speed. This is ‘slowing down for the hard bit’ with a vengeance. Inevitably the return of the Minuet causes a further problem – it arrives a bar late and gallops through at the original over-fast speed. I really thought that this old-fashioned and outworn habit of making two tempo shifts during a Minuet and Trio had died out 30 or 40 years ago, but one or two conductors have recently perpetrated this eccentric indulgence. The finale is unhurried but rhythmically alive with, again, excellent playing.

I was left wondering if the ‘Jupiter’ would perhaps be more acceptable. Expressiveness in the first movement is certainly within accepted limits and the addition of a crescendo to some upward string rushes actually enhances the melodic line. Fractionally delayed pauses do no harm and indeed often add point the drama. Thoughtful conducting here displays both the grandeur and the emotion of the music. In the slow movement Boyd again keeps the music flowing elegantly – an ideal Andante cantabile, many a slower version can seem overlong. The Minuet – marked Allegretto again – starts with bright phrasing and bouncing rhythm but the start of the Trio section is once again delayed – this time by one complete bar (but at least this means that the rhythm is continuous). However a different eccentricity now arises. Although the first two chords of the Trio are just about ‘in tempo’, the last two notes of bar 61 are much slowed, as are the first two notes of bar 62. The music suddenly returns to tempo on the next note. Did my ears deceive me? I checked the identical passage on the repeat. Amazingly the music remains ‘in tempo’ on the repeat. Twice more this phrase is due to return and the next appearance is ‘in tempo’ too, but at its final arrival just two of the four notes are slowed. Concern increases as the return of the Minuet section approaches – what will happen this time? I suppose something eccentric was inevitable and it takes the form of the first note of this repetition entering just over five beats late. As the music continued the confident playing impressed more and more. The finale is a most demanding movement and the playing here is superb. Mozart’s intricate fugal patterns are clearly defined and the driving rhythm is exhilarating. Boyd rightly chooses to make both repeats – not too often done but the structure of this movement demands it.

How sad that so much excellent playing in these two performances should be undermined by eccentric fussiness at a few points in both Minuets. Being dance movements, regularity of rhythm should have been an important feature of performance.

In all I was much impressed by the orchestral playing and the well-balanced (live) recording. I feel sure there will be performances from this source without niggling impositions of the conductor’s will. Boyd would probably give magnificent renderings of Mozart’s ‘Paris’ and ‘Prague’ Symphonies: after all they contain no minuets.

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