SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MOZART – The Complete Youth Symphonies = [TrackList follows] Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/ Sir Neville Marriner – PentaTone Classics (4 discs)

It’s great to have these recordings back in the catalog, in resplendent four-channel SACD sound.

Published on October 27, 2012

MOZART – The Complete Youth Symphonies = Symphony No. 7a in G Major, K.Anh. 221 (K45a) “Alte Lambacher”; Symphony in G “Neue Lambacher,” Kdeest; Symphony No. 12 in G Major, K110; Symphony No. 18 in F Major, K130; Symphony No. 20 in D Major, K133; Symphony No. 45 in D Major, K95; Symphony No. 46 in C Major, K96; Symphony No. 47 in D Major, K97; Symphony No. 51 in D Major, K121/196; Symphony No. 7 in D Major, K45; Symphony No. 8 in D Major, K48; Symphony No. 9 in C Major, K73; Symphony No. 19 in E flat Major, K132; Andantino grazioso K132 (alternative slow movement for K132); Symphony No. 6 in F Major, K43; Symphony No. 48 in D Major, K120; Symphony No. 50 in D Major, K161/163; Symphony No. 51 in D Major, K121/196; Symphony No. 52 in C Major, K208/102; Symphony No. 55 in B-flat Major, KApp.214 – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/ Sir Neville Marriner – PentaTone Classics multichannel SACD (RQR, 4.0) PTC 5186 462 (4 discs), TT 3:59:49 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Although some of these symphonies can’t be dated with accuracy, it’s now believed the earliest of them was written when Mozart was ten, the latest when he was perhaps nineteen. So “Childhood Symphonies” might be a better name for them. That earliest symphony, No. 7a, K45a, is nicknamed “Alte Lambacher” because it was originally thought to have been composed at the Benedictine monastery Stift Lambach (Lambach Abbey) in 1769. It has more recently been dated to 1766, when it was presumably composed for the investiture of Prince William of Orange (William V). Already the young Mozart was lavishing his compositional skills on royalty. This and a number of interesting tidbits can be gleaned from the very good notes to the present recording, along with helpful analysis of the music. PentaTone doesn’t do things by halves.

While K45a is a slender work (eight-minutes duration) in three movements along the lines of an Italian overture, a number of these works, especially those dating from the 1770s, are in the usual four-movement form that came into favor in Mannheim and later Austria. A couple of these later pieces are quite substantial, K130 and K133 running to more than twenty minutes. K133 adds trumpets to the standard orchestra of oboes, horns, and strings, and K132 instead of the trumpets adds two more horns. Thus Mozart in the early 1770s was not only writing for larger ensembles, his longer works also show an increased mastery that makes them as worth hearing as the symphonies of just about any of his contemporaries.

This increasing mastery of style owes much to the influence of J. C. Bach, whom Mozart met in London in 1764. Mozart studied briefly under Bach and continued to study and admire Bach’s music for the rest of his life. The Italianate grace of even the earliest of Mozart’s symphonies is a testament to this influence. But only a genius, and not a musical parrot, could have turned this influence into the fully mature symphonies that Mozart was turning out by the early 1770s.

Symphonies 45–47 (K95–97) are said to have an even more direct Italian connection; they were probably composed while Mozart was traveling in Italy between 1770 and 71. Some of the spirit of opera buffa seems to have rubbed off on them, though the festive Symphony No. 46 in C Major (like Symphony No. 46, with trumpets and drums) has a somber, near-tragic slow movement that hints at the range and depth of emotional expression Mozart was capable of even as a boy of fourteen or fifteen.

Incidentally, if you’re puzzled by the numbering of these early symphonies, which run all the way up to Symphony No. 55 (written around 1768), they’re so numbered because they were discovered after the “canonical” forty-one symphonies, ending with the Jupiter Symphony of 1788, were given their universally accepted numbering by Ludwig von Köchel in his 1862 catalog of Mozart’s works. They’re numbered in the order in which they were discovered, so the numbers have nothing to do with date of composition.

Some of the works on offer here have direct connections to Mozart operas. K111/120 was originally written as an overture to Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba, debuted in 1771; like most other composers of the era, Mozart was not above recycling his own works. K121/196 has as its first movement the overture to La finta giardinara, while K208/102 is based on the overture to Il re pastore. So the first movements of these symphonies may be familiar to you even if you are encountering them in their expanded symphonic form for the first time.

There is much to enjoy and admire in this set originally recorded by Philips in 1972 and ‘73 (for possible quad LP release, which was not done) and lovingly remastered in four-channel surround sound by PentaTone. Though these symphonies have more recently been recorded by original-instruments groups (including the English Concert under Trevor Pinnock and Concentus Musicus Wien under Nicholas Harnoncourt) and while a new 5.0 SACD version has been set down by Adam Fischer and the Danish Radio Symphonietta, for me the recordings of Neville Marriner and ASMF haven’t been improved on either by more recent scholarship or sound engineering. Tempi are crisp, the orchestra is always light on its feet, eminently transparent in texture, and the playing is gorgeous, as are the sonics emanating from Brent Town Hall in London. I’m very glad to see these performances back again, and sounding better than ever.

—Lee Passarella




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