Mozart: Symphony No. 41 (CD review)

Also, Clarinet Concerto; Bassoon Concerto. Jack Brymer, clarinet; Gwydion Brooke, bassoon; Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 7243-5-67601-2.

I know I'm becoming redundant by repeating this so often, but I have to say it again: EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series (now Warner Classics) was one of the best lines of reissues on the market. I mean, other ventures like RCA's "Living Stereo," Decca's "Legends," DG's "Originals," Mercury's "Living Presence," et al, are wonderful and I love them, but their companies usually had only three or four great artists apiece on their rosters. EMI, on the other hand, had Beecham, Karajan, Furtwangler, Klemperer, Barbirolli, Previn, Ashkenazy, Cluytens, Kleiber, Bernstein, Giulini, Walter, Szell, Menuhin, Muti, Lipatti, Perlman, Rostropovich, Pollini, the list goes on and on. And EMI remastered every disc beautifully using their ART (Abbey Road Technology), making them sound better than they had ever sounded before, the discs filled to the edges with music aplenty and offered at a mid price.

I think EMI meant for Mozart's Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter" to be the main draw on this entry, but, in fact, the accompanying concertos actually take the honors. Beecham had championed Mozart for most of the twentieth century, practically playing his music before the composer became the household name he is today, and Beecham recorded the "Jupiter" twice before this 1957 rendering. The previous two performances had been in monaural, and reviewers have said they were better than the final, stereo version we get here.

Sir Thomas Beecham
I don't know; I haven't heard Beecham's earlier recordings. What we have here, though, is a very precise, very elegant, very noble interpretation, as though Beecham were trying hard to emphasize that this last of Mozart's symphonies was, indeed, his greatest. The minor quibble I have, however, is that I hear little of the Beecham zest showing through, and the result seems somewhat staid for this conductor. He takes the Minuet, for example, at an especially slow tempo; yet it does serve to dramatize the fiery finale the maestro serves up. This performance wouldn't necessarily be on my list of top-five "Jupiter" recordings, but it deserves a listen.

In any case, the Clarinet Concerto and the Bassoon Concerto are different matters. Here we find the old Beecham magic on full display. Jack Brymer's clarinet sounds particularly felicitous in the first of the concertos, and Gwydion Brooke's bassoon work in the second concerto is equally top-notch.

Producers Lawrance Collingwood and Victor Olof and engineer Robert Becket recorded the Symphony at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, in 1957. Producers Victor Olaf and Peter Andry and engineers Paul Vavasseur and Neville Boyling recorded the clarinet piece at Salle Wagram, Paris and Abbey Road Studio No. 1 in 1958. And producer Peter Andry and engineer Neville Boyling recorded the bassoon piece at Abbey Road Studio No. 1 in 1958-59. The sound in all three of these works appears smoother and more refined than the same recordings in earlier CD and LP versions, the sound in the concertos perhaps a trifle smoother and fuller than in the symphony. This disc replaces my old CD of the two concertos alone, so the "Jupiter" is like icing on the cake. And did I mention the disc contains a few seconds less than eighty minutes of material? That's certainly of value.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt 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.

Contact Information

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

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa