MOZART: Overture to The Magic Flute; Symphony No. 36 in C major K. 425, “Linz”; Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major K. 543 – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / James Lockhart – Royal Philharmonic Masterworks RPO 28390, 66:23 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
This is an entertaining program featuring middle and late Mozart, supposing that we can class the “Linz” Symphony of 1783 as a middle work in Mozart’s short life. It caps the series of fully mature symphonies that began with the Little G Minor Symphony (No. 25) of 1773 (when Mozart was all of seventeen) and is among the most popular in this group.
On the other hand, of the four great symphonies that came at the end of Mozart’s life, Symphony No. 39 of 1788 gets the least respect for no good reason I can think of. With its lovely and prominent parts for two clarinets, an instrument Mozart seems really to have discovered around this time (the great Quintet K. 581 would follow the next year), it’s a joyous work that’s just as distinctive to me as any of the others, if not as profound. As with the two other symphonies of 1788 (Nos. 40 and 41), there seems to have been no direct impetus for its creation, and there’s no evidence that it was ever played in Mozart’s lifetime, though scholars conjecture that some or all were played at concerts featuring Mozart’s latest work.
The Overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute makes an excellent curtain-raiser on this program, one belonging to the Royal Philharmonic Masterworks Audiophile Collection. As with an earlier Royal Philharmonic disc featuring the Eroica Symphony, I’m a bit puzzled why these works qualify as “audiophile showpieces,” [especially since they are just standard 44.1K CDs…Ed.] but the recordings are exemplary. There’s an excellent sense of the hall, stereo spread and depth are both convincingly captured, and the instruments are rendered with utmost fidelity, including the silky-smooth violin section.
It goes without saying that these are modern-instrument performances, but Lockhart and his players bring the best of authentic-instrument practice to their readings. Tempos in the outer movements are crackling without being dizzying, slow movements are sensitively done but aren’t slow to the point of romanticizing, and the balance between strings and winds is judicious, reflecting one that eighteenth-century audiences would have expected. So brass and timpani really ring out in Symphony No. 39. These are all fine, invigorating performances that won’t replace classic ones but, given the excellent sonics, would make real sense as up-to-date supplements to your Mozart collection.
– Lee Passarella