Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 31 and 38 (SACD review)

Josef Krips, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. PentaTone Classics SACD 5186 119.

Now, this is the way I remember Philips recordings and the Concertgebouw sounding years ago in their glory days. Way back before digital processing and before Chailly and Decca had picked up the Concertgebouw Orchestra, there was this wonderful resonant ambiance that gave the ensemble a golden glow. The old Concertgebouw recordings, like this one, were little gems that shone radiantly in the world of classical music. It’s nice to have some of them back more radiant than ever.

From time to time I’ve mentioned that during the early 1970’s when Quadraphonic sound was a short-lived rage, companies like Philips experimented with the technique but never actually issued much of it in anything but straight two-channel stereo. Then, some thirty years later with the advent of SACD multichannel capability, PentaTone Classics began re-releasing a number of Philips’s old four-channel recordings on hybrid stereo/multichannel discs, meaning a person could play them back in two channels or four or five channels, depending on one’s equipment and one’s preference.  PentaTone re-released the current issue in 2003.

I played the Mozart from the SACD stereo layer in my regular two-channel system, and it sounded terrific. Very clean, very smooth, and, most happily, very glowing and ambient, better than I ever recalled hearing the recording before, perhaps because PentaTone remastered both the multichannel and stereo layers. I would imagine the ambient bloom I’m referring to would show up even better being reinforced by some subtle surround information in the rear channels. Incidentally, the Philips recordings were originally miked in four channels, not five or five-point-one, so that’s the way PentaTone have preserved them.

As far as the music is concerned, it’s lovely. Josef Krips was a consummate Mozartian of the old school, and his performances of Symphony No. 31 “Paris” and and No. 38 “Prague” are bouncy, charming, traditional, but reasonably impassioned, too. There is no stuffiness about them, especially not the little “Paris” Symphony, and they come across most lovingly. Compared to the several rival recordings I had on hand--Barenboim, Klemperer, Mackerras--Krips loses something, perhaps, in overall character, appearing a bit plainer than the others. However, one should not consider this a drawback, and Krips’s traditional approach should appeal to those listeners seeking conventional yet affectionate interpretations. There is no lack of warmth or enchantment in these performances for all their straightforwardness.

If there is any drawback to the disc at all, it’s that many of Krips’s recordings in regular stereo are available at a much lower cost, if not in as clean sound. But if it’s multichannel you’re looking for or the best possible Krips in two-channel, this is a fine route to take.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:

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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