This new 2-CD set on the PHI label contains Mozart's famous last three symphonies.
In the late 1780s the Mozart family was living in Vienna. Mozart had expensive tastes and neither he nor his wife Constanze kept financial records - two precursors to financial disaster. Mozart struggled to support his family by writing musical trivia, but by 1788 they were so poor that they had to move to humbler lodgings. Mozart wrote countless letters to friends in which he begged for loans. This was a time of intense distress for him; his popularity in Vienna had waned, his only daughter Theresia died, and Constanze was ill. Despite this turmoil, between June 26 and August 10 he produced three late symphonic masterpieces - the E-flat major, No. 39 (K.543), the G-minor, No. 40 (K.550), and the C-major, No. 41 (K.551). The precise reasons for their composition are unknown but it is now believed that they were for specific events; the long-held view that Mozart wrote them with no hope of future performances is discounted. He conducted concerts of his own music in Leipzig in 1789 and Frankfurt in 1790, and both programs announced "new symphonies by Mozart." A third concert in Vienna in April, 1791 also included a new Mozart symphony; exactly which were performed at these concerts is unknown, but it is reasonable to assume that these three premiered in Mozart's lifetime. Despite the composer's personal and family problems all three symphonies are emotionally richer and more advanced in thematic and harmonic structure than any of his earlier symphonies.
The three symphonies project three distinctly different moods. The charming, graceful E-flat major is a vigorous, cheerful, and life-affirming work; the dark, shadowy G-minor is restless and stormy with tragic undertones; and the triumphant C-major "Jupiter" has an impressive dignity and solemnity.
The Orchestre des Champs-Elysees was created in 1991 and is dedicated to performances of music written between ca. 1750 and the early 20th century, i.e. it covers the period from Franz Joseph Haydn to Gustav Mahler. The Orchestra makes a special point of performing on instruments that existed during each composer's lifetime. Since 2010 their artistic director and principal conductor has been Philippe Herreweghe, who founded the PHI CD label.
The playing is beautifully crisp with performance times longer than most other recordings, yet the tempi seem absolutely right to me and faster performances seem rushed by comparison. The recorded sound is exemplary. Those looking for beautifully polished performances of these three wonderful symphonies should give this 2-CD set very serious consideration.