Mozart: Symphonies, Vol. 4, Nos. 12-14 (SACD review)

Adam Fischer, The Danish National Chamber Orchestra. Dacapo 6.220539.

A dedicated Mozartian could probably identify all forty-one of the composer's symphonies from just a few bars.  To me, the early symphonies all tend to sound alike, the variations so subtle that even after I had heard the four works on this Dacapo disc, I doubt that I could tell them apart if I listened to them again.  That is not to say I didn't enjoy them, however.  It had been many years since I had last heard anything but a late Mozart symphony, so it was a pleasure to again delight in their charms.

Maestro Adam Fischer appears on a mission to record all of Mozart's symphonies, with this collection of four from 1770-71 being the fourth volume in the series.  Fischer works well with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, a group just about the right compromise size for these pieces, considering that Mozart himself dealt with ensembles ranging from a handful of players to fifty or sixty at a time performing his symphonies.  Fischer appears genuinely to love the music, and his glad tidings are infectious.

Mozart wrote the four works recorded here while he was in his mid teens, so they share a youthful vigor, a traditional four-movement arrangement, and, above all, brevity, the longest of the movements being about six minutes, the shortest less than two minutes.  Things start with Symphony No. 12, all merry good cheer, with a momentary reflective repose in the middle.  Then we get KV96, a bigger, bolder, and more bassy piece, or as the composer might have said, a more grandfatherly composition.  The booklet note informs us that Mozart wrote all of these symphonies during and just after his performance trips to Italy, where he was probably influenced by the Italian fondness for bass at the time (double basses and violas, especially). This is particularly noticeable in KV96.

Symphony No. 13 displays a greater sense of wonder and adventure than the first two, but with the same high spirits and featuring an Andante that is most delightful and a closing Allegro that sounds as though it might have later inspired Mozart in his Horn Concertos.

Finally, from the very beginning of Symphony No. 14 we experience a sense of calm, calculated resolve, yet with a bouncy beat reminiscent of the composer's Magic Flute of several decades later.  There is also a more pronounced sense of size, space, and breadth present than in the earlier symphonies, projecting a more ambitious design. Nevertheless, the music remains decidedly playful and generally amusing.

Dacapo's studio sound, recorded in 2009, is pleasantly smooth, warm, and alive, without being entirely state-of-the-art (despite the SACD capabilities of its CD/SACD compatible format).  It seems to do everything right, sounding quite natural, yet it lacks those final "wow" factors that audiophiles enjoy, like ultimate impact and transparency.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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 (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa