MOZART Symphonies Nos 39 - 41
The bizarre title, ‘Mozart’s Instrumental Oratorium’, derives from Harnoncourt’s belief that the three late symphonies form a sort of ‘last statement’. In support of this he avers that they form a single tripartite structure: No 39 is the only one with an introduction while No 41 is the only one with a true finale; No 39 doesn’t really finish while No 40 doesn’t really begin; and he refers to the skein of motivic resemblances throughout the three works. Be that as it may, this is the first time he has recorded the works with Concentus Musicus, the period band he formed all of 61 years ago.
What he also locates in this miraculous trilogy is the rhythmic motor that propels each work. While there are those characteristic hiatuses and pullings-up that inevitably characterise a Harnoncourt performance, he never allows the underlying impetus of the music to relax. Slow movements are kept moving and some (me included) will find minuets rather too fast for comfort. Outer allegros build irresistibly, despite Harnoncourt’s firm belief that no silence can’t be stretched – and a tendency to pause unnecessarily at repeat bars.
This is what one knows to expect from Harnoncourt, though. Nevertheless, along with his reassessment of the musical content of these symphonies, he and the Concentus have clearly reconsidered the sound world of this music. Blend now seems less important than individual instrumental timbre, with the all-important horn parts spotlighted, trumpets permitted to scythe through the texture, and a notably proactive bass-line. The clarinet-led Trio of No 39’s Minuet, one of Mozart’s truly unique inspirations, sounds gloriously like a rusty squeezebox in this performance. It’s a far cry from the suavity of, say, Herreweghe’s recent traversal (PHI, A/13). All repeats are taken, even second time around in minuets (which is fair enough at these tempi), and – especially importantly – in the Jupiter’s finale, here a conception of overwhelming grandeur that matches the breathtaking scope of the music in every bar. Notwithstanding Harnoncourt’s idiosyncrasies, this is a singularly compelling journey through some of the finest symphonies of the era, less mannered than his 1980s recordings with the Concertgebouw (Teldec), more thoroughgoing than the conclusion of Adam Fischer’s Danish cycle (Dacapo, 1/14) and far better played than Brüggen’s recent set (Glossa, 8/14).