March 2008

Mozart - Symphonies Nos. 38 in D ("Prague"), 39, in E-flat, 40 in G minor, 41 in C ("Jupiter")
Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras cond.
Linn CKD308
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2008

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance **1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

Sir Charles Mackerras, a recognized authority on such opposites as Handel and Janácek, is one of the few musicians we might reasonably entrust with the Complete Works of Everybody. Between 1986 and 1990 he recorded all the Mozart symphonies -- really, all of them, not just the canonic 1-36 and 38-41 -- with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for Telarc. Now he has remade the last four of them for SACD with the Scottish ensemble with which he has forged a long and close relationship. He again takes all repeats (the "Jupiter" runs nearly 40 minutes); the trusty James Mallinson, who produced Mackerras’s Telarc Mozart, was again in charge, a virtual guarantee of first-rate sound; the packaging is exceptional, and Neal Zaslaw’s annotation is another plus.

But the Telarc Mozart remains a tough act to follow, even for Mackerras and Mallinson themselves. Direct comparisons, in fact, can only redouble admiration for the bracing, robust character of the Prague performances over these curiously lifeless ones from Glasgow. On Telarc, the muscularity of the allegros makes for a more effective contrast with the inwardness of the slow movements, and the Czech players’ confident instincts enhance the charm of such passages as the clarinet duet in the trio of No. 39’s minuet. Mackerras’s roots in Prague go way back, after all: the sense of "total immersion" vitality and spontaneity he achieved there remains unmatched, and the warmer acoustic of the House of Artists offsets any advantage in Linn’s otherwise fine SACD recording.

Hold on to those Telarcs, and if you don’t have them, get them now!