SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MOZART Symphonies Vol. 3 – Nos. 9, 10, 11, KV 95, 97, 81, 84 – Adam Fischer – Dacapo

If you want the early symphonies on modern instruments, this is about as good as it gets.

Published on October 20, 2011

MOZART Symphonies Vol. 3 – Nos. 9, 10, 11, KV 95, 97, 81, 84 – Adam Fischer – Dacapo

W. A. MOZART Symphonies Vol. 3 (1769–1770) = Symphony No. 9 in C Major, KV 73; Symphony in D Major, KV 81; Symphony in D Major, KV 97; Symphony in D Major, KV 95; Symphony No. 11 in D Major, KV 84; Symphony No. 10 in G Major, KV 74 – The Danish National Chamber Orchestra/ Adam Fischer – Dacapo multichannel SACD 6.220538 [Distr. by Naxos], 54:09 ****:

The Mozart Symphonies series from Dacapo is not proceeding in chronological, or any logical, order: Volumes 4 through 8 were already available before this latest volume was rolled out. Volume 3 brings us six symphonies from Mozart’s thirteenth and fourteenth years. As you’ll note, not all of these symphonies are numbered. The why and wherefore of this matter are complicated, the complications beginning with the original Breitkopf and Härtel edition of Mozart’s works issued in 1879. It contained the familiar 41 symphonies starting with Symphony No. 1 (KV 16) of 1764. Shortly afterward, however, scholars turned up additional Mozart symphonies (or so they thought), and as these new works were added to the canon, they were assigned numbers commencing with 42. They were putatively pieces from early in Mozart’s career, most cast in the form of the Italian overture (three movements, fast-slow-fast). However, later scholarship revealed some of these additional symphonies to be of dubious authenticity.

The producers for this project are proceeding conservatively, basing the series on the recent detective work of Mozart scholar Neal Zaslaw. This will result, when the project is complete, in a total of 44 recorded works. That contrasts with the 68 works included in Christopher Hogwood’s Complete Mozart Symphonies series on the L’Oiseau-Lyre label; Hogwood’s collection includes not only some of the spurious symphonies but also overtures, serenades, cassations, and alternate versions of canonical symphonies. Indeed, Symphony KV 81 contained on the current disc still divides scholarly opinion as to whether it was written by Mozart or his father Leopold. So perhaps a truly conservative approach would have been to pass over this one as well.

Unlike Hogwood, who was the first to record all the symphonies on original instruments, Adam Fischer conducts a modern-instruments band, the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. As one might expect from his Haydn Symphonies project on Nimbus, Fischer’s performances are informed by the same sorts of scholarly decisions that guide the original-instruments crowd. Outer movements are generally taken at a fast, not to say breathless, clip; slow movements have a patrician grace about them that breathes the Classical spirit. Surprisingly, Fischer opts not to include the usual harpsichord continuo. Some might feel this tends to make the symphonies sound more progressive, but I miss the keyboard.

There is some variety in the instrumentation of these early symphonies. Symphony No. 9, in the festive key of C, employs a relatively large orchestra, including (besides the usual strings) oboes, horns, trumpets, and timpani, as well as a flute in the slow movement. Symphony KV  97 (No. 47 in the Breitkopf and Härtel edition of 1881) has trumpets and drums in addition to oboes, while Symphonies KV 81 (No. 44) and KV 84 are scored for horns along with the oboes; the Danish hornists play glowingly here. Unusually, Symphony KV 95 (No. 45) swaps the horns for trumpets and adds two flutes in the slow movement.

An unusual feature of KV 95, my favorite of the bunch, is that the gracious slow movement follows attacca from the opening Allegro, which is often true of Italian overtures, yet this symphony is cast in the standard four movements. The symphony’s minuet and trio are unusual as well: the minuet is brazenly lively while the trio is in the minor key—and minor-key movements or episodes are rare in these early works. The finale, at three minutes’ duration, is one of the more fully developed.

Of course, as astounding as these symphonies are in terms of invention and craftsmanship given the composer’s age, they’re a far cry from the mature symphonies. Still, they already show some of the hallmarks of Mozart’s later works, including an Italianate grace, especially in the slow movements, which probably stems from Mozart’s emulation of J. C. Bach.

As I mentioned earlier, Fischer’s performances have both grace and liveliness and are beautifully played as well; they make a very fine impression. Dacapo’s studio recording is close up and for me crosses the line between brilliance and aggressiveness. I would have preferred a slightly more distant perspective, which would probably have supplied a greater sense of depth. If I had to settle for one recording in this repertoire, I think I’d plump for Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert on the Archiv label. But Fischer and his orchestra are raising the bar for modern-instrument performances.

—Lee Passarella




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