Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 39 & 41 (CD review)

Thomas Fey, Mannheim Mozart Orchestra. Profil PH05047.

I never had any doubts about the sonic merits of this recording from the opening notes. It sounds terrific. But I did question whether it was a period-instruments band playing, given that the first few moments of Symphony No. 39 feature timpani prominently, and they certainly sounded like period drums. Yet the strings seemed modern. It turns out that maestro Thomas Fey and his Mannheim Mozart Orchestra use period performance practices and period timpani and brass, but at the same time they use modern strings. So, it was just as I thought: They use the best of both worlds, and the results, while different, are worth a listen.

Fey and his players take moderate tempos, yet they are lively and energetic, too. He doesn't conduct either symphony in quite as exhilarating a manner as Daniel Barenboim plays them in his old EMI English Chamber Orchestra readings, but Fey is nevertheless on his toes.

Symphony No. 39 is especially buoyant after its somewhat somber introduction, but it's the "Jupiter" Symphony that is the marvel. At first I had some doubts about the rather leisurely pace of the first movement introduction and again during the third movement Minuetto, but the conductor puts all doubts to rest as things warm up. Never too fast, never too slow, Fey seems to have a knack for picking the right pace and spicing it up with the right dynamic contrasts. Maybe the "Jupiter" doesn't have quite the overall sparkle of Eugen Jochum's celebrated DG recording with the Boston Symphony, but I think the listener will find joys here of their own.

So, just how much did I really like these interpretations? After listening to both works, I immediately sat through them a second time. Yes, the performances impressed me that much. However, I wouldn't consider them first-choice recommendations; they're a little too different for that.

The sound the Profil engineers get on this 2005 recording is quite clear and clean, with a wide stereo spread, excellent transparency, and strong transient impact. One must count the sonics here among the better one can find in these Mozart symphonies, even though the timpani and brass are quite prominent.

JJP

2 comments:

  1. I'm shocked by the prominence of the timpani, brass and woodwinds in this recording. Fey is remarkable for changing the basic sound of a composer. He did the same with Mendelssohn.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, as I said in the first paragraph, the timpani are quite prominent here, and they may, indeed, shock a few listeners. Of course, we don't know what Mozart would have thought of Fey's sound, nor do we know what these works actually sounded like in Mozart's own day. I found the performances refreshingly different. But you make a good point, and I don't know how well the sound will hold up over time with me, either.

    ReplyDelete

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical 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 using a pair of VMPS RM40s. 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.

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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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