Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 29-36, 38-41 (CD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.