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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major (1788), KV543 [29:07]
Symphony No. 40 in G minor (1788), KV550 [30:33]
Symphony No. 41 in C major (1788), KV551 [34:17]
Australian Chamber Orchestra/Richard Tognetti
rec. live, 3 October 2015, City Recital Hall, Sydney
ABC CLASSICS 4812880 [59:40 + 34:17]

The Australian Chamber Orchestra has an international reputation, more so than even the big symphony orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne. Much of this deserved reputation has been garnered under the inspiring direction of concertmaster and artistic director Richard Tognetti, who has been with the orchestra as leader for 25 years. This recording, taken from a single concert in 2015, marks that anniversary by recreating a concert in Tognetti’s first season as leader, under the direction of Frans Brüggen.

We have performances here on authentic instruments, strings shorn of vibrato, natural horns braying very prominently. Those of you averse to this style may be about to press the back arrow. That would be a mistake – these are brilliantly played performances by an immaculate ensemble, but they are not comfortable Mozart in any way.

Tognetti’s vision of these works shorn of Romantic trappings is not new, but these do sound quite different to Christopher Hogwood’s with the Academy of Ancient Music or René Jacobs’ with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. These are very muscular, even aggressive, performances that will startle you. In the booklet notes, Tognetti talks about the raucous audiences that Mozart would have known, and it seems as though he is suggesting that these performances are what would have been needed to cut through the noise and clamour. In that way, they are almost “rock and roll” renditions.

Tognetti and the ACO have too much musical integrity and pedigree for the likes of me to suggest that this is not a right way for Mozart. Suffice to say that it is not the way I prefer. My touchstone performances are those by Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish CO on Linn (review) from 2008. Mackerras strikes the right balance of elegance, energy and élan. For me, the performances presented here, in avoiding overly smooth Mozart, have gone too far the other way.

Those allergic to applause in recordings should be warned that there is some, immediate though not prolonged, at the end of each work. The booklet notes consist of well-written commentary on each of these three famous works, plus an interview with Tognetti about his recollections of that concert, and his thoughts on the symphonies.

These would have been thrilling performances to witness live, but I couldn’t warm to them in the atmosphere of my lounge.

David Barker



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