Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Recorded June 2008 & June 2009Auditorium Teatro Manzoni, Bologna
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: January 2012
CD No: DG ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 9792
Duration: 66 minutes
These are live recordings, natural in sound with a welcome absence of audience noise and applause. The sturdy opening of No.39 bodes well. Claudio Abbado then seems to confirm that at the start of the Allegro section modern interpreters no longer countenance the boring old habit of using the quiet bars as a sort of introduction and then rushing away at the first tutti. There is Klemperer-like steadiness in Abbado’s reading of this movement, apart from a slight (but forgivable) rounding-off at the end of the first subject. The Andante con moto is thoughtful rather than dance-like – the same unhurried pace as that taken by John Eliot Gardiner but not so measured as Colin Davis and all these approaches contrast with the swifter forward flow of Charles Mackerras. Back to solid sturdiness for the Minuet with a few inflections to spice up the chugging string accompaniment. The finale starts attacca and is spirited throughout. I much approve the observation of both repeats because I agree with Sir Adrian Boult’s assertion that if these are not made in Mozart’s later symphonies the finales become “something of a tadpole.”
The opening movement of No.40 is surprisingly mild. It is beautifully phrased and the dramatic undertones are realised, but the pace seems too casual to represent Allegro molto and the use of the revised score further takes the edge off the music because of the smoothing effect of the additional clarinets. Now, only very rarely would I approve of a composer’s repeat markings being ignored but the performance of the Andante gives room for thought: the repetition of both repeats in the slow movement means that it takes nearly twice as long. Surely making the initial repeat only would have given a suitable element of symmetry to the Andante by matching the preceding Allegro molto. A light touch and clarity of inner parts illuminates the Minuet. The late entry of the Trio is disturbing however and the music then slightly loses pace – this is not hugely noticeable but the giveaway is the hastening come the da capo. Fine playing and much rhythmic strength are very appropriate for the finale – there is space for affectionate phrasing but this does not prevent the music from surging forward. The bittersweet oboe solo that represents the second subject loses its impact when, as here, it is played on Mozart’s clarinet revision but the phrasing is certainly very affecting.
Abbado’s interpretation of No.40 is a world away from the fiercely driven Furtwängler recording of 1948: that famous reading is approached in intensity by very few conductors. Nevertheless, in both works, Abbado certainly searches for the essence of Mozart. The recording brings out the wind detail especially well, but, particularly in No.39, I was aware of a slightly cloudy quality in the upper strings.
Here is an orchestra that is very responsive to the conductor’s wishes (Abbado has been Orchestra Mozart’s conductor since its foundation in 2004). There are many examples of shaping of phrases which in the hands of others can merely pass by and impart no musical meaning. Throughout there is elegant playing from a very skilled ensemble and which gives considerable pleasure.