output is very well documented on disc. The ubiquitous masterpieces
of his middle and later symphonies have been recorded far and
wide by orchestras the world over and are included in almost
every season program, regardless of location. Not as frequently
recorded are the early symphonies, which hold charm and show
themselves to be just as well constructed, approachable and
enjoyable as their more widely-known counterparts. In this,
the well-touted “Mozart Year”, quite a flurry of recordings
has come on, one of the best of which also focuses on the early
symphonies. Currently at two volumes, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
has done a stellar job of re-presenting a territory of works
that, for most of the informed listening public, has been dominated
by Christopher Hogwood’s series of Mozart symphonies recorded
in the Eighties.
Of the pieces on this
four-disc set only one overlaps with the Harnoncourt volume that
I reviewed (see review).
Compared to the Hogwood and the
Harnoncourt, the performances of I Solisti Veneti strike more
of a middle ground. Hogwood opts for stateliness and correctness.
Harnoncourt takes an approach that pulls the works out of the
museum and shoves them right up to the lip of the stage, directly
behind the footlights.
Concentus Musicus Wien, I Solisti Veneti were founded by Scimone
in 1959. Prolific recording artists, the ensemble have, according
to websites devoted to them, recorded the complete works of
not only Vivaldi — which would be quite a lot of listening —
but also the complete works of Albinoni, Geminiani, Marcello
Well, to the music,
then. Regarding the K124, I’d always found my Hogwood recording
on L’Oiseau Lyre hard to beat; joyous and wonderfully busy in
the opening Allegro, and serenely dignified in the following
Andante. I Solisti Veneti omit a repeat in the first
movement, resulting in the Allegro being only 3:20
compared to Harnoncourt’s 5:19
and Hogwood’s 5:02. Scimone also keeps I Solisti going at a fairly fast
clip for the Andante, which doesn’t, however, give the
impression of rushing. The Menuetto fails to hold quite
the vivacity of the Hogwood or especially the Harnoncourt.
In the ending Presto Harnoncourt rises above both the
performance here and my tried-and-true Hogwood, especially when
the brass come in. Overall, for this work, my preference is
definitely for the new Harnoncourt recording.
For those not so familiar
with Mozart’s earlier symphonic output, there are many lovely
moments awaiting. One such example is the final movement of
the K128 symphony in C, which bobs merrily along on its triple-meter
and proves a tonic to the rainiest of Sundays. I Solisti are
a delight in this movement, as well as in the skipping finale
to the K48 Symphony in D, found on disc 2 of this set.
Getting back to comparisons,
we have the K114 symphony in A. Overall, the Hogwood performance
with the Academy of Ancient Music
is slower; more stately. I Solisti play with more verve in
the opening movement, though the beginning doesn’t have the
energy level that Hogwood pulls from his ensemble. I find the
use of the brass more effectively done in the I Solisti performance.
Hogwood’s use of woodwinds at 3:15 is more arresting, however. Overall, for this particular
work, I prefer Hogwood. This goes also for the K100 (K62a)
symphony in D. Hogwood’s reading, with its presence, intensity,
and precision, is certainly hard to beat. This movement had
been for me among the highlights of the series Hogwood recorded.
In comparison, I Solisti sound rather compressed and, though
the recording is from a decade later, sounds like an older recording
than the Hogwood. They play with great energy and precision,
but the tempo choice works against them.
Overall, this set by
I Solisti Veneti shows interpretations closer to Hogwood’s performances
of twenty years ago. For those who are turned off by Harnoncourt’s
intensity, this is an overall well-crafted release that holds
its own with Hogwood’s watermark recordings with the Academy of
Ancient Music — often besting him, but sometimes not. Overall
my preference goes to the Harnoncourt series, for the price and
the wealth of music on offer this comes recommended.