Mozart, L Toy Symphony, 'New Lambach' and other Symphonies

Respectable symphonies from music’s most famous father

Author: 
Richard Wigmore

Mozart, L Toy Symphony, 'New Lambach' and other Symphonies

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  • Sinfonia da camera

Works like the Musical Sleighride, the Peasant Wedding and the Toy Symphony have given Mozart père something of a reputation for musical frivolity, in sharp contrast to the stern, judgemental figure that emerges from his letters to his son. But he turned out a series of perfectly respectable symphonies that speak the Italianate lingua franca of the mid-18th century with fluency and skill, if no real individuality.

Cliff Eisen, who is editing Leopold’s symphonies for publication and writes the scholarly notes for both these discs, makes a strong case for the so-called New Lambach, long misattributed to Wolfgang. It’s certainly the most substantial and “up-to-date” work on offer here, with lively, well developed outer movements and a pleasantly melodious Andante. The other symphonies on the Naxos disc are much slighter. Slow movements have a certain sober charm, though Allegros tend to bustle and quiver to no great purpose, with a constricted harmonic range, minimal melodic interest and predictable repetition of phrases. The same strictures apply to the selection on the Chandos disc, though two of the C major symphonies here (C1 and D1) are enlivened by flamboyant horn parts. The other C major Symphony, C4, with its drone effects and “primitive” dialogues between violins and double basses, has a mildly rustic flavour.

The world was hardly deprived of potential masterpieces when Leopold gave up composing to nurture and promote his son. Still, if you fancy investigating these modest symphonies, both discs offer polished performances on modern instruments. Of the two, Bamert and the LMP (stunning horns) generate more excitement, though textures can blur in the bright, resonant church acoustic. If Mallon and his Toronto band, caught in clearer sound, sometimes sound a tad decorous, rhythms and phrasing are always alert, while ratchet, snare drum, bird whistle and other assorted interlopers patently enjoy themselves in the Toy Symphony.

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