MOZART Symphonies Nos 40 & 41 (Blomstedt)
Mozart’s late symphonic music is nowadays so much the province – almost the property – of the period-instrument brigade that a recording by a traditional ‘big’ orchestra might seem somewhat old-fashioned. Don’t be fooled. These performances by the warm-toned Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with the octo- and nonagenarian conductor Herbert Blomstedt eschew all notions of plushness for a drive and determination that one might more readily associate with younger, slimmer, more supposedly ‘informed’ groups.
There’s an undertow of danger to the outer movements of the G minor (K550) that is easily missed if one seeks in them only Schumann’s ‘Grecian lightness and grace’. The Jupiter retains its suavity and classical balance without descending for a second into complacency. Tempos remain keen, with even minuets offering something of a kick. Moreover, there is a gratifyingly generous provision of repeats, not only in sonata second halves but also in minuet returns. Woodwind come into their own thanks to finely judged balances and sympathetic engineering, not only in solo moments but also in ensemble, whistling like a whirlwind in their unison commentaries on the strenuous Sturm und Drang of the G minor.
Both performances have about them a most satisfying sense of rightness. Nothing sticks out or strikes one as odd but neither is there any sense of routine, with the orchestra audibly on its toes throughout. A recent recording this one perhaps most closely resembles, then, is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Mackerras: similarly considered from a vantage point of many years’ experience, not to mention finely played – albeit in studio conditions and presumably with slightly smaller forces – but without any hint of quirkiness or imposed ‘individuality’ for its own sake. These two symphonies are recorded so often (and the coupling is virtually set in stone) but this is nevertheless a high-class and eminently pleasing addition to their discography.