Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 & 41

The Arts Desk, 26 March 2011

Mozart is the one classical composer I have had problems with; his music suffers when treated with too much affectionate gloss and the harmonies can become cloying rather than piquant. However, these live performances of two of the mature symphonies have had me leaping around with delight. They’re live, originally issued to audience members at London’s Cadogan Hall in February 2006 shortly after the concert had finished, and now given wider release. Mozart on period instruments is now standard practice, and the playing in both symphonies is predictably high-class. The spacious introduction to Symphony no 39 is characterised by limpid wind playing, with vibrato-free low flutes adding delicious recorder-like colours. Listen to the magical passage two minutes before the symphony’s close, when questioning bassoons and clarinets lead us out of the darkness into a reprise of the main theme, fearlessly articulated by Gardiner’s strings.

Symphony no 41 is equally invigorating. There’s no hint of pomposity in the swaggering opening, underpinned here with clear timpani strokes. The closing Molto Allegro explodes with joy and the upfront recording adds to the physical excitement.