Also, Divertimento No. 7; Two Marches in D. Daniel Barenboim, English Chamber Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 50917-2 and 0946 3 50922-2 (two separate 2-disc sets).
With so many competing sets of late Mozart symphonies to choose from, it's futile to recommend any single one as being best of all. But I will say that if I had to live with only one set, Barenboim's from the late Sixties, early Seventies would be high on my list of choices.
This is not to say I don't have individual favorite conductors and orchestras in each of the works; yet while I may enjoy Jochum in No. 41, Klemperer in No. 40, Davis in No. 39, Krivine in No. 29, Marriner or Bernstein or Mackerras in some others, and so on, I can't think of another conductor beyond Barenboim who brings so much joy to all of the works equally.
Yes, it may simply be nostalgia. After all, I've owned these Barenboim recordings on LP and CD for some forty years. But hearing them again in EMI's two low-priced 2-disc sets convinced me otherwise. They really are that good, both musically--interpretively--and sonically. And I continue to think that Barenboim's performances of Nos. 31, 35, 36, 39, 40, and 41 are among the best anyone has ever produced. They have vitality above all, the trim, athletic English Chamber Orchestra under Barenboim's conductorship producing remarkably fleet, lithe results. There is a grand scope to each piece that befits Mozart, a hushed tranquility in the slow movements, a proper proportioning of moods and contrasts, and a dynamic spark that sets them above the ordinary. Neither do the readings sound lackadaisical nor out of breath, but swift and youthful and occasionally playful, like Mozart himself when he wrote them. They are all of them a genuine joy to hear.
On these mid-priced, reissued 2006 sets, the EMI engineers used the same 1991 transfers they had for the earlier full-priced CD set, and in comparison to the older discs they sound, as they should, alike. Fortunately, that is very good, indeed. These recordings may be four decades old, but they sound brand new. They possess a fullness, a richness, and a transparency that outshine most new recordings.
I might add that the EMI producers have spread out the symphonies over the four discs as oddly as before, probably for reasons of timing. The first set contains Nos. 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 38, and 39. The second set contains Nos. 32, 35, 36, 40, 41, the Divertimento No. 7, and the Two Marches in D. Whatever, they're a bargain.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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