Notes and Editorial Reviews
Many notable Mozart conductors have become broader in their tempos and more detail-obsessed as they aged. Walter, Beecham, Böhm, Klemperer, and even Sir Colin Davis have all fallen under the spell of the music's perfection to the point where they could hardly bear to let it alone. On the other side of the equation are equally great conductors such as Szell, Reiner, Casals, and Toscanini, whose vision intensified instead of mellowing. It is to the latter group that Menuhin belongs, and these superb performances call to mind Toscanini at his best, in the tensile strength of the melodic line, subtle rubato, and miraculously clear articulation.
Menuhin, in his ineffably modest manner, has been a consistently successful
conductor over the last twenty-five years. One remembers highly satisfying recordings of Handel's Water Music, the Bach violin concertos, suites, and Brandenburgs, with his own Festival Orchestra from the 60s, and recent discs of quality devoted to Elgar and Vaughan Williams. His Mozart conducting is very individual and entirely convincing. He chooses swift tempos for all the fast movements, but never exceeds the limit beyond which complete clarity can be achieved. The andante of the “Jupiter,“ conversely, moves at a perilously deliberate pace which is vindicated by the levitated song of the violins floating blissfully over the bar lines. And throughout are imperceptibly subtle adjustments of tempo and phrase: the oft-discussed re-transition to the recap in the opening movement of K. 550 sounds like a conjurer's coup instead of the textbook demonstration it has tended to become.
Menuhin is traditional in confining repeats to those universally observed. In neither of the slow movements, or the finale of K. 551, are any repeats taken. (I, for one, have had enough of forty-five-minute renderings of the supremely economical “Jupiter.“) He is more interested in making maximum impact the first time around. Perhaps the most striking feature of the playing is the etched clarity of articulation of the smallest notes. Like Toscanini, Menuhin insists on our perceiving the tiniest pair of thirty-second notes as clearly as the long notes of the principal themes. You will never hear the andante of K. 550 done with more loving, jewel-like clarity than here.
The Sinfonia Varsovia is an expanded, forty-member descendant of the Polish Chamber Orchestra. I would not have guessed from the records they made several years ago under Maksym-iuk that they were capable of such astounding ensemble or such cultivated purity of tone. If there is anything to criticize, it is Virgin's recording, made at what the booklet describes as “Concert Hall, Warsaw.“ This auditorium has unhelpfully dry acoustics, and the opening passage of K. 550 was so gray in color that I feared a long hour of listening was in store. At higher dynamics, this fault is far less annoying. It would also have been nice to hear a firmer bass line and more wind color, in view of the excellence of the playing, but neither element can actually be said to be slighted. Compared to the sound we are willing to accept on vintage orchestral recordings, it is acceptably solid. Put as simply as possible, this is one of the very finest items to be sent my way in my twelve years of reporting for this journal. It goes to the top of the list of modern recordings of these immortal works.
-- Elliott Kaback, FANFARE [9/1990] Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 40 in G minor, K 550 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Written: 1788; Vienna, Austria
Length: 25 Minutes 19 Secs.
Symphony no 41 in C major, K 551 "Jupiter" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Written: 1788; Vienna, Austria
Length: 32 Minutes 15 Secs.
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