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5.0 out of 5 stars Immerseel continues to entrance the ear with his superb orchestra, 11 Dec 2012
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mozart Symphonies (Audio CD)
This pair of discs very well recorded in 2001 and 2002 brings excellent period performances from Immerseel and his specialist orchestra.

Jos van Immerseel has followed an approach to 'authentic' recreations with his very fine orchestra of enthusiasts that sets it apart from the rest. What happens with these musicians is that they decide what music is to be focussed on and then the appropriate instruments are tracked down, bought and then the players spend time and practice learning to play them in the ways the instruments demand. Only then are performances worked on, performed and then recorded. In this way Immerseel has recreated the sound worlds of Mozart, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov and Ravel. They are all very different and make for fascinating listening.

None of this would be worth a thing of course if the musical message of interpretation was inferior. To my knowledge, this failure has never happened, although it must be admitted that musical eyebrows have certainly been raised at times. The Mozart performances on these discs are so good that they are arguably among the very best available, both period or traditional.

Textures are clearly correct. This is the inevitable result of using the correct number of correct instruments which we are regularly being reminded of in other 'authentic' performances of this period. Gone, however, are the more abrasive sounds of the early days. Also gone are the metronomic tempi of those days too. What we have here are stylistically alert interpretations that take an upbeat view of tempi but never to the point of sounding rushed. Allegros move briskly and minuets are sprightly but not aggressive. Slow movements retain a sense of flow.

Overall one could comment that, although tempi are kept on the move interpretively, there is nothing here that falls outside the realm of good practice on either period or traditional modern instruments. The real difference lies in the extra clarity achieved through the choice and number instruments and the awareness of the important dialogue that constantly occurs between strings and woodwind and which can so easily be submerged using modern instruments with their very different power ratios.

The bassoon playing of Jane Gower is a delight and is light years in conception away from the much liked but surely anachronistic, interpretations provided by Beecham which ruled the catalogues for so long. It follows the pattern of performance as described for the symphonies. In particular, the changing and always rustic timbres of the instrument as it pays through its range is completely engrossing. Jane Glover plays impeccably in tune and so it is completely possible to luxuriate in these beautiful sounds from yesteryear and which must have been the sound that Mozart had in mind. It makes the modern bassoon sound so bland in this music. Jane Glover is also the first bassoon of the orchestra and plays that line in the symphonies.

The playing of the orchestra is unfailingly expert, the conducting is perceptively engaging and the recording fully engages the listener.

For those interested in 'period' performances of Mozart, I would suggest that this pair of discs should merit serious consideration from all purchasers.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exquisite symphony no. 39 Bravo!, 8 Jan 2010
A. Cooper "él de los castillos" (Wembley, near the stadium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mozart Symphonies (Audio CD)
I bought this (Amazon B0049BX0GW) for the performance of Symphony 39, a strong contender in a lamentably limited field. The benchmarks are, for elegance, particularly in the andante, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt’s 1958 Mercury version with the L. S. O. (coupled with the Jupiter, a fabulous bargain. Why doesn’t it get a CD reissue?); Pinnock, for the pitter-patter effect in the pianissimo tympani roll of the opening adagio: this is a musical instrument, not a dull rumbling; Vaclav Talich for the warbling clarinets of the trio (Amazon B00000JMZY); Immerseel doesn’t score tops with any of these. However, the crucial tympani part is clear from start to finish (its inaudibility is a common failing), the tempi are just right, above all in that adagio, and the wonderful variety of tones in the period brass produce an elusive dialogue effect. Above all he captures the wistfulness that sets this work apart from virtually all other symphonies.
Symphony 40 has more competition: I thought the opening movement was slightly too fast. When composers qualify their tempo markings with afterthoughts (here assai), the result is often ambiguity rather than clarification. The other query is that I had to listen several times (without the score) to check that the clarinets were present. This is a common occurrence with this work, and it’s not because they’re inaudible: Mozart’s second thoughts version with clarinets does not manage to exploit their tonality as successfully as in the 39th. Not the conductor’s fault really.
The Jupiter opens with a slight aberration: the G-A-B triplet semiquavers of the door-knocking theme are excessively abridged into a single smudged apoggiatura, so that all one really hears is the final C. There is no need to do this – the symbolism is perfectly clear without it. Fortunately Immerseel doesn’t let it pall, and the remainder of the symphony unfolds with the vital interplay of orchestral sections, particularly the brass. The main competitor here is Mackerras (Scottish Chamber Orchestra version: Amazon B0011J2R0K, a snip), who also has these qualities, and makes more of the slow movement. In the finale, Mackerras, a pupil of Talich, pursues a just-perceptible accelerando – exciting, but not impetuous.
The last three symphonies appear to be Mozart’s artistic credo (the Prague symphony, although a masterpiece, does not fit the mould). Whose versions you chose depends on your perception of this notion. The 3 works are, respectively, lyrical, tragic and heroic. Monumentality demands all the repeats, as supplied by Mackerras. I’m not sure about Immerseel (I admit I haven’t checked, but the finale of no. 39 seems over too soon). Some may find Mackerras’s free rein with the brass in 39 and 41 excessive. If you agree that the three form a set, and that you should hear all of them from one conductor, then you have to look for consistency in the tempi: Immerseel keeps the same speed in the trios as in the minuets in each symphony, though the first clarinet ornamentation in the repeat of the trio of no. 39 may raise an eyebrow. The other tempo test is to listen to the andante cantabile of the Jupiter which is notated 3/4, and then the andante of no. 40, which is in 6/8, and check that you can tell the difference from the conductor’s phrasing. It is clearly there in Immerseel’s hands, though this 3/4 of Mozart’s is curiously ambiguous.
In other cases, the choice of fill-up would be decisive. Mackerras gives a very fine Prague symphony, while Immerseel provides an equally desirable bassoon concerto, a greater rarity (Jane Gower is the wonderful bassoon soloist). If you value this music, you really have to have both sets, an education in creativity. There will never be definitive versions, just more very good ones. But if I could have a wish granted about them, it would be to hear the finales of nos. 39 and 41 come in on the very next beat after the minuets.
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