Contemporaries Of Mozart - L. Mozart: Symphonies / Bamert, London Mozart Players

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L. MOZART Symphonies: in C, C 1; in D, D 17; in D, D 1; in G, G 14; in C, C 4; in D, D 25 Matthias Bamert, cond; London Mozart Players CHANDOS 10496 (68:20)

By my count, the current release is number 22 in Chandos’s ongoing series titled, “Contemporaries of Mozart,” a collection that has included symphonies by Clementi, Krommer, Michael Haydn, Carl Stamitz, Pleyel, Vanhal, Kozeluch, Hoffmeister, Cannabich, Franz Xaver Richter, and a dozen others. In some cases, “contemporaries” is a bit of a stretch; yet it could be argued that all of these composers contributed to the early stage evolution of the taxonomic genus we call “symphony.”

Of the specimens on this disc, three of the six (C 1, D 1, and C 4), all dating from the mid to late 1750s, are already in four movements and in a sequence of Allegro, Minuet and Trio, Andante, Presto. Interestingly, the order of the two inner movements would be reversed in the later and fully developed symphonies of Haydn and Leopold’s Wunderkind , Wolfgang, and would remain thus until Beethoven reversed them once again in his Ninth.

The other three symphonies heard here (D 17, G 14, and D 25) are in the three-movement sinfonia format (fast-slow-fast) quite common to the period. Typical, too, is the modest scoring of two violins, viola, bass (cello), and two horns, the viola being dispensed with altogether in D 1. If actually performed with these forces, one would be hard-pressed to distinguish between such a work and one categorized as chamber music. But it is likely that in performance the strings were beefed up in numbers, so that two violins likely became first and second violin sections of perhaps four players each, and the violas and cellos were both augmented to two each.

What would be born at full term as sonata-allegro form is here still in its fetal stage, with contrasting middle sections in the minor key appearing as the limbs that would grow into secondary themes and development sections. Also a prenatal feature is the virtually indistinguishable character between first and last movement allegros and prestos. First movements would subsequently slow down, expand, and take on a weight and gravitas quite different from the lighter, frothier, high-spirited last movements. All of this adds up to Leopold Mozart’s symphonies—at least those presented on this disc—falling squarely into the pre-Classical period well represented by many of the other composers in Chandos’s anthology that traces the beginnings and development of the symphony from the stil galant and the Mannheim school through the early essays in the form by Wolfgang Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn.

Readers who have been irritated by my selective opposition to HIP may take some comfort in knowing that I am perfectly happy to hear works such as these played on period instruments; for in music of this timeframe, I find period instruments completely appropriate. Collectors of this Chandos series, however, will know that the London Mozart Players, founded in 1949 by Harry Blech as the U.K.’s first official chamber orchestra, is a modern-instruments ensemble, so that those looking for period-instruments performances of these works will need to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is at present nowhere else to look. Of the specific symphonies on this disc, there is only one listed recording of each, and this is it.

Happily, the London Mozart Players is a well-disciplined, professionally polished band; and under its leader, Matthias Bamert, dispatches its duties with élan. Even I must admit, however, that the ensemble is too large in numbers—or perhaps Chandos’s slightly over-reverberant recording makes it sound thus—for these performances really do strike me as somewhat bloated and brassy sounding. I wonder if Leopold Mozart would recognize these readings of his own works. If you’ve acquired previous volumes in this series, you will know what to expect. But HIPsters are hereby cautioned.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10496

  • UPC: 095115149621

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Leopold Mozart

  • Conductor: Matthias Bamert

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Mozart Players