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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

on 5 September 2012
I now own both SACD issues of Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performing Mozart's last, but greatest symphonies. The two double SACD's contain Symphonies 29, 31, 32, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40 & 41. These are exceptional recordings and prove once again what a brilliant format DSD (SACD) could be in the right hands. They are an absolute pleasure to listen to, especially on a good audio system, while each booklet provides very interesting insight into the historic significance and Mozart's inspiration and motivation for each of these symphonies.
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on 29 August 2012
For my taste these symphonies are the best of Mozart (along with The Magic Flute opera). Sir Charles MacKerras was a noted conductor of Mozart and produces beautiful performances on this album. It is very sad to learn that he has since passed away, which will make this album even more of a treasure.
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on 24 September 2016
40 and 41 are very good, 38 and 39 less so.
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on 25 December 2014
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on 7 September 2008
It is the mark of a fine conductor that s/he treat Mozart and Haydn symphonies with he same reverence as, say, Beethoven or Bruckner. In his last four symphonies Mozart establishes a standard for symphonic writing that later composers, Beethoven included, were to respond to and build on. Mackerras has long been a Mozartian par excellence, although his earlier recordings of these symphonies are not, in this reviewer's opinion, of the best. These new recordings with the SCO certainly are.

Mackerras adopts a modern approach to these works that is informed by 'period instrument' performances, while still allowing the sort of spaciousness one tends to find in the performances of more 'old school' conductors - Bohm and Bernstein, for example, are both worth hearing in this repertoire, but Mackerras has the edge on both; he is somehow that bit more 'Mozartian'. The SCO is outstanding as always, responding stylishly and gracefully to Mackerras's meticulous detail.

I've been looking for some time for a modern instrument recording of these works that can stand repeated listening and I found it in these; in fact, for me, Mackerras offers the most rounded and consistently pleasing account of these great works and I would recommend them whole-heartedly.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 12 June 2013
This set of the last Mozart symphonies was recorded in 2007. It is very complete and very large scale for such a chamber version. These two concepts are a little at odds with themselves - that is large scale on the one hand and chamber orchestra, implying smaller scaled, on the other.

This is Mackerras' third survey of these symphonies and I have heard them all. The first recordings were with the LPO, relatively drily recorded, and preceding his later thoughts about using a smaller chamber orchestra. The second set with the Prague orchestra by contrast had a tendency to sound over resonant and therefore a little bloated. This recording from Scotland achieves the greatest clarity with the right level of bloom for a modern chamber orchestra working at full strength. There is still a sense of inflated chamber orchestra but not to the extent of the Prague set, thus achieving a more appropriate sense of scale compared to the traditional full orchestra compared with the LPO recordings.

Throughout these performances Mackerras shows a clear awareness or current period practice and therefore he adopts tempi which are constantly kept lively. This is coupled with the idea that every single repeat should be observed. This is fine as regards the exposition repeats where there is good reason to hear Mozart's compositional ideas reinforced. However, repeats of the development sections of movements is a relatively unusual decision as it seems somewhat unnecessary dramatically. It's a bit like reading a thriller novel or watching a film where the first part is dealt with in flashback, which related to the exposition being repeated. However, reading or watching the chase scenes to the final conclusion of the story then repeating that section identically would not be a good idea in a book or a film and arguably has the same effect in music.

One thing that Mackerras cannot achieve, even with period awareness, is the actual period sound where the internal balances of the orchestra are radically changed to more evenly match the strings and the woodwind. This aids the idea of dialogue which simply occurs naturally as a result of the balance within the orchestra. The other important consideration is that the tonal effects of the period instruments is lost by using modern instruments. Woodwind become less rustic, brass become more over-bearing and strings become too smooth. Timpani put on a degree of sonic portliness. These comments are all to be taken as relative remarks.

This set is presumably designed to give a modern twist to a period approach and thus appeal to those who know that the big band approach is wrong but who still resist the period instruments. This can be a fear of intonation problems which certainly used to be very severe coupled with acerbic string tone. However all of that is a thing of the past as Pinnock clearly shows in his complete survey of the symphonies. there are now numerous other examples of period orchestras who play with the same accuracy and control over tone as a modern group such as this Scottish orchestra.

I would suggest that this is still a very fine set and certainly the finest of the three sets made by Mackerras. As such it has received much praise and I would agree with that. However, the Pinnock set has also received tremendous praise and has the advantage of going the whole way as a period performance, except in the matter of repeats, and that brings its own set of additional rewards.

So in conclusion I would suggest that this set by Mackerras is worthy of the praise that it has received and as such deserves serious consideration as a potential purchase. However, Pinnock offers an alternative set of all the symphonies as a fully period experience and that too is well worth considering.
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on 21 May 2011
If you are new to classical music and do not yet have these Mozart symphonies on CD or if you already have another set, just go ahead and treat yourself to these performances !!
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on 11 June 2011
I'm a late-commer to these recordings. They are, as so many have already said, excellent as long as you don't mind the development repeats which take all but No 39 out well over the half-hour mark. But there's one thing about them that might influence you which I haven't seen remarked on.

These are chamber orchestra performances (the photo shows some 27 performers), but to my ears they sound MUCH bigger and grander, more like full-strength symphony orchestra versions. The explanation presumably lies in the recording venue, the City Halls, Glasgow: you can hear several seconds of reverberation fading away after any loud final chord.

This doesn't mean there's any lack of clarity in the overall sound - the brass in particular cuts through thrillingly, and there's no sign whatever that Mackerras had to slow anything down to keep the engineers happy.
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on 8 March 2008
Sir Charles's performances recorded here cover the last four symphonies by Mozart, and these are very good indeed in their category of hybrid (mixture of modern and period (brass) instruments) historically informed performances. Phrasings are articulate and smooth at the same time and textures are utterly clear if not quite as colourful as in all-period instruments recordings. Most importantly, taking all repeats, Sir Charles has successfully kept his listeners in view both these symphonies overall monumental dimensions and the unique finess and beauty in each of their numerous details. SCO plays gloriously and Linn's engineering is equally outstanding. All lovers of Mozart symphonies should take a listen at this.
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on 2 January 2011
While I wouldn't disagree with the praise that's been heaped on these performances, sadly there is one thing that completely spoils my listening pleasure - the observance of Development-Section repeats. For me, this is uncessary and damaging; hearing the development twice robs the music of its surprise value - like someone telling you a funny story with a great punchline - twice! Inevitably, the second time you hear it, the effect is diluted.

Repeating the exposition is quite different; you're at the start of an adventure, and there's something reassuring about retracing your opening steps. In classical and romantic symphonies, the exposition should always be repeated, and some works (Beethoven's 5th symphony, for example) are positively emasculated if the repeat is not taken. But, repeating the development is totally counter-productive. It's pointless, boring, and risks expanding the music beyond its natural length.

Take the Prague symphony for example. When both repeats are taken, the first movement can stretch to almost 20 minutes - that's about the same length as the first movement of several Bruckner symphonies (3, 4, 5, 7, 9) which cover a vastly greater terrain without repeats - and longer than the first movement of Beethoven's 9th!

Had Beethoven sanctioned exposition and development repeats, the 9th's first movement might easily have lasted almost half an hour. Luckily, Beethoven realised repeats were unecessary, and broke with convention - repeats would actually have damaged the structure and continuity of the movement, diluting the white-hot intensity of its narrative.

For me, observing development-section repeats damages Mozart's symphonies, quartets, and sonatas. Partly, this is because Mozart's developments are sometimes quite quirky and startling, sending the music in all sorts of new and unexpected directions. This being so, you lose the surprise factor when the music is repeated.

Having been taken through the twists and turns of a vigorous and pithily-argued development section, you're being prepared for the coda to round things off when - suddenly! - the development is repeated, and you have to go through it all again. Why? What's the point? Do we REALLY need to hear the music once more? Or are we just trying to put out well-filled CDs that offer full value?

Imagine this happening in a film or a book - you're a couple of minutes from the end, and - god help us! - the last third of what we've just seen or read is repeated exactly. Madness! And why does this only happen in Mozart? You don't get development-section repeats in Beethoven, or any of the later composers like Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert or Schumann.

If you discern a narrative thread in music (as I try to do), you'll hopefully agree that repeating the development is uncessary and (in most cases) wrong; far from lending the music extra stature, it diminishes it.

Of course, many will not understand what I'm talking about, and disagree - 'the more the merrier' they'll say; 'we simply can't have enough of this glorious music'. But, this misses the point; More is not Better. Music is not like visiting an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet, and gorging yourself sick just because you can.

J M Hughes
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