Mozart 40 & 41/Marc Minkowski

0 of 5 stars

Idomeneo – Final Ballet
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski

Recorded in October 2005 in the Auditorium of MC2 (Maison de la Culture), Grenoble

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: September 2006
477 5798
Duration: 78 minutes

The obvious comparison is with Douglas Boyd’s recent searching but controversial recording of these two symphonies with Manchester Camerata.

Marc Minkowski is full of subtlety but rarely do his musical inflections and carefully thought-out phrasings detract from the composer’s implied intentions and I noted only two ‘raised eyebrow’ moments. The most controversial of these is the markedly faster tempo adopted for the dramatic minor-keyed sections of the slow movement of the ‘Jupiter’. This is the type of effect that could really grip an audience, yet much as I admire this daring interpretative idea, I am not sure that it will stand up to repeated hearing. Otherwise, tempos in No.41 are admirable; the breadth of the first movement is ideal – slow enough to illumine sensitive phrasing but fast enough to represent the required Allegro vivace. Great attention is paid to detail – note the added bassoon trill at bar 65, which parallels the first violins at that point. Throughout, balance is consistent. All the melodic lines are there without need for highlighting. The timpanist is subtle – his every stroke is heard without these instruments being over-present; he or she carefully distinguishes between a plain f and a marked sf. Part of the clarity is attributable to the balance of the trumpets, which add colour but are never allowed to dominate (the use of ‘period’ instruments is of great assistance here). The finale goes with a fine sweep (both repeats are made) and the coda is exceptionally exciting.

The balancing of the lighter-scored Symphony No.40 seems not to achieve such detail in the woodwinds. Part of this may be due to the revised score being used, the added clarinets seem to dull the lucidity of the existing flute, oboes and bassoons and even the B flat alto horns are a little submerged at times. The first movement is ideally fast – yes, this is a rare example of a conductor being as fast as Furtwängler in his famous Vienna recording. I have to say that Furtwängler’s tension is not quite achieved, however. Thereafter Minkowski again takes a sensitive approach. The Andante is not fast but successfully moves forward – only the slight broadening at the repeat gives away the fact that Minkowski had pushed on slightly.

Given that clarity and suitable pacing makes for a satisfactory reading, what, then, is my second ‘raised eyebrow’? Sadly it is to do with the Minuet. There is unsteadiness to be found here and I am not convinced that Minkowski intended it, it sounds more like miscalculation to me. Mozart required the movement to be played Allegretto and Minkowski takes a rapid view of this marking, so much so that at the arrival of the Trio the tempo cannot quite be kept up – not the gross pause and deliberate slowing perpetrated by Boyd but more a ‘what has happened to the rhythm?’ feeling.

The “Idomeneo” ballet music makes for an enchanting 13-minute addition. Placed sensibly between the two symphonies, Minkowski brings out the dancing rhythms. In his booklet note, the perceptive comparison by Cliff Eisen with Gluck’s use of ballet music in his operas is most apt. The orchestra plays with sparkle, verve and much feeling – clearly this was regarded as more than a mere ‘fill-up’ to the two more important works. The oboe solo halfway through the sequence is a particular delight.

This excellent but not quite perfect recording is not quite as smooth in the violin area as I might have expected but many recording engineers could learn from the immaculate balance displayed here.

In the days of LP, Archiv Produktion was noted for scholarly, if sober, packaging. What has happened? The front of the booklet lists the two symphonies in a tiny font squashed between two much larger but differing fonts, one lower case, and one upper. To the left there is a downward pointing zig-zag red arrow. The plain green background is speckled with dirt – printed so convincingly that I tried to wipe it off! The relevance to Mozart completely escapes me, but the musical side of this release is impressive.

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