Mozart: Symphony No. 40 (CD review)

Also, vocal music from Lucio Silla, ballet music from Idomeneo, and four Contredanses. Amanda Forsythe, soprano; Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo's Fire. Avie AV2159.

Harpsichordist Jeanette Sorrell formed the period-instruments group Apollo's Fire in 1992, gathering some of the finest players to perform baroque and classical music in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Since then, she and her ensemble have reached far beyond the enthusiastic and appreciative boundaries of Cleveland, producing over a dozen CD's and performing all over the world. One can understand why they enjoy such respect after hearing this disc of Mozart music.

As with other performances I've heard from this conductor and orchestra, they provide well-judged tempos, never too fast (as is the usual practice with other period-instruments' bands) or too slow. Moreover, their playing sounds so cultured and refined, it's hard to tell this is even a period realization. Then, too, the Avie Records engineers capture the instruments with such a warm, ambient glow, even they tend to sound modern. Add in that Mozart's forward-looking Symphony No. 40, with its Romantic overtones sounds like something a century beyond its time, and you get an opening number on the album that belies its eighteenth-century origins.

Apollo's Fire is a relatively small ensemble, of course, around thirty players or so, which lends an intimacy to their interpretations. The second-movement Andante of the Symphony No. 40 is particularly magnetic, complementing a most-gentle and affectionate reading. While Ms. Sorrell's rendition perhaps loses a little something in the conflict department, it more than makes up for it with its quietly assured attitude.

In the disc's accompanying pieces, soprano Amanda Forsythe performs a recitativo, "In un istante," and an aria, "Parto, m'affretto," from Mozart's opera Lucio Silla, which are quite moving and quite dexterous in their execution; and then the orchestra alone do up Mozart's ballet music from Idomeneo, the program concluding with four brief Mozart Contredanses.

The ballet music comes across most infectiously and for me the five ballet selections were the highlights of the album. There is a genuine dramatic flair in these performances that is maybe not so evident in the Symphony because of our overfamiliarity with the music and with so many other recordings of its available. But the ballet music displays a zesty bounce, fluidity, grace, style, and precision that is hard to resist.

The sound, most of which Avie recorded at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in April of 2008, is, as I've said, warmly ambient, while also being smooth and detailed. Even if it may not convey all the transparency an audiophile desires, it is highly realistic, and a listener could not ask for anything easier on the ears.


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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa