May 2007

Mozart - Symphonies 38 "Prague"; 41 "Jupiter"
Frieburger Barockorchester; René Jacobs, cond.
Harmonia Mundi 901958
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Rad Bennett

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

Knowing that conductor René Jacobs has breathed new life into such Mozart masterpieces as The Marriage of Figaro, I approached this disc with highest hopes, because most recordings of Mozart symphonies that I have heard of late either seemed pedantic or lacking in energy. My keen anticipation was greatly rewarded with a disc that shows us all how a Mozart symphony ought to be played.

Jacobs' readings are energetic and spirited, with careful attention to phrasing and articulation. One always has the feeling that the music is going forward. The lyrical melodies in slower movements are buoyant yet expressive, while the clean phrasing in faster movements is breathtaking, as is the excellent balance that allows woodwind solos, brass, and timpani to be heard clearly. One is more aware of Mozart’s incredible scoring for woodwind and brass in this recording than on any other disc, and to my mind that is a huge plus.

Harmonia Mundi’s recorded sound is crisp but never strident or harsh. The balances are excellent, and the soundstage wide, though not so deep. That allows the woodwinds to be heard all the better. As winds and strings are passing around the theme in the fugal passages of Symphony No. 41’s last movement, the clarity is breathtaking.

If you have avoided Mozart symphonies because you think them too prim or proper, try these robust performances and prepare to be converted.