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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Early Symphonies
Disc 1
No 1 in E-flat, K 16 [13:33]
No 4 in D, K19 [9:31]
Symphony in F, K Anh.223 [13:00]
No 5 in B-flat K22 [6:16]
Gallimathias musicum, K32 [4:00]
No 6 in F K43 [17:00]
Disc 2
Symphony in G, K Anh.221 (45a) [12:45]
Symphony in B-flat, K Anh.214 (45b) [12:08]
No. 8 in D, K48 [12:18]
Symphony in C K73 (75a) [11:30]
No 7 in D K45 [11:07]
Disc 3
Symphony in D, K100 (62a) [16:18]
No 10 in G, K74 [8:02]
No 13 in F, K112 [14:18]
No 12 in G, K110 [15:16]
No 14 in A, K114 [17:36]
Disc 4
No 15 in G, K124 [11:26]
No 16 in C, K128 [10:01]
No 17 in G, K129 [10:54]
No 18 in F, K130 [19:48]
No 19 in E-flat, K132 [15:19]
I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone
rec. Olympic Theatre, Vicenza, Italy, Sept 1994; 10, 14 June, 29 July, 4 Aug 1991; 29 July –4 Aug 1994
ARTS 47780-2 [4 CDs: 64:09 + 60:52 + 71:38 + 68:46]

 

Mozart’s symphonic 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. 

Rivalling Harnoncourt’s 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 and Tartini.

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.

David Blomenberg

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