Mozart Symphonies 9, 14, 20 & 24 Genuin

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 9 in C, K73/75a (1769-72)
Symphony No. 14 in A, K114 (1771)
Symphony No. 20 in D, K133 (1772)
Symphony No. 24 in B flat, K182/173dA (1773)
Folkwang Kammerorchester Essen/Johannes Klumpp
rec. 2021, Immanuels-Kirche Wuppertal, Germany
Mozart Symphonies III
Genuin GEN24864 [64]

Unlike its predecessors, in which Mozart symphonies from different periods are presented, in this third volume of a complete set “in the coming years” Johannes Klumpp brings together all the teenage symphonies – which you’ve probably never heard before.

If you did hear Symphony 1 in the second volume (review) you’ll be shocked by Symphony 9. Symphony 1’s opening movement is a neatly progressing melodic line, whereas Symphony 9’s first theme is like fairground festivity, that Klumpp plays in a hair-raising tempo. But what is the nature of Mozart’s soft, strings only, passages that immediately counterpoise that tutti opening? Intriguingly dreamy afterthoughts? A sophisticated lady seeking some elegant diversion on the edge of the hurly-burly? More stimulatingly purposive is the second theme eagerly probing in the string-bass (tr. 1, 0:51). A trills’ opening third theme with flourishes from 2 oboes (1:11) neatly doubles as transition to the recap of the opening material. It’s all exhilarating, quite exhausting and unexpected, as Mozart experiments.

I compare this with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra/Adam Fischer, recorded 2010 (Dacapo 6.220538). Fischer matches Klumpp’s pace with a touch more brashness. His strings-only passages responding to the tutti are a firmer, brighter presence and his greater clarity and detail of the articulation between first and second violins are more vivid.

The second movement F major Andante features pleasantly dancing two flutes in gentle pastoral vein. In the second strain (tr. 2, 1:29) a brief hint of G minor disappears fast. Klumpp is creamily smooth, Fischer lower calorie but fresher; his flutes’ highest notes sparkle more. Unfortunately, he omits the second strain repeat that Klumpp correctly supplies.

In the third movement Minuet Klumpp creates a festive swing and well-rounded sonority. He nicely shapes the strings’ only Trio (tr. 3, 0:54), attractively sinuous with unexpected turns. Fischer’s Minuet is heavier, but his Trio, using solo strings, is more affectionately intimate and sweet.

The contredanse en rondeau finale presents similarly distinctive contrasts as the first movement. Klumpp the rondo theme sweeps joyously forward. The violins express the lady’s preference for a more placid, considered approach, gaining notable presence in the third episode in C minor (tr. 4, 0:51), with strong support from the winds, even if they are crushed by the rondo theme’s emphatic coda. Fischer has less verve, but finds more space for the violins’ episodes, so the move near the end of episode 2 toward A minor (0:40 in Klumpp) is given more focus.

So there’s a whole teenage Mozart symphony. Exactly when and where it was composed is musicological debate, but we know the other symphonies here were written for Salzburg where Mozart had the honorary title of concertmaster and in 1772 was decreed by the archbishop a regularly, though modestly, paid member of the court orchestra. Not a big one: two oboes or flutes (the same players played both), two horns, sometimes two trumpets (not in Symphonies 14 and 24), bassoon or bassoons a continuo rather than solo instrument. So, less range of colour than later Mozart symphonies with ‘soloist’ bassoons and clarinets. In Symphony 20, I find that the addition of a reconstructed timpani part, neither from Klumpp nor Fischer, but as in The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock 1993 period instrument recording, thrillingly improves its pep.

In these Salzburg symphonies I single out the most striking movements; in Symphony 14 it’s the first. The soft opening theme is innovative, but from Klumpp sounds a mite wary and uncertain before its jollier, loud tutti repeat. At the exposition repeat (tr. 5, 1:23) he is ideally a smidgen more confident. The second theme (0:49) is also soft but more elegant and immediately has a suave presence. Its second part (1:05) is a full tutti response with growth in dramatic strength of statement through the flutes and horns’ sustained chords and huge violins’ leaps anticipating the first movement of Symphony 25. In the development (2:47), a third theme introduced by the flutes realises its fanfare potential when repeated by the horns before being moved on to the first theme recapitulation by an urgently dramatic tutti. Then joyfulness and brio abound.

In Symphony 20, I choose the slow movement as the freshest on this CD.  Only here a solo wind player, a flauto traverso obligato, reigns prettily supreme over muted strings and pizzicato string-bass. These latter supply a rippling background, second violins occasionally provide a descending counterpart to the soloist’s rising triplets in semiquavers. The movement flows in easy, simple, graceful sequences. For me, most endearing is when the first violins get their own brief ‘solo’ (tr. 10, 1:08) and how they relish its three-note rise at the end of its opening phrase.  In the movement’s second half (3:08) there’s a lightly applied but a touch more formal sense of summation within which the first violins contribute a rather solemn, ruminative response (3:20) to the main theme.

In Symphony 24, my pick must be the finale, a miniature rondo in opera buffa style, full of fizz. The loud rondo theme is mainly tutti with Klumpp’s horns prominent. The episode (tr. 15, 0:18) introduces soft, blithe strings musing, rather like those in the opening movement of Symphony 9, soon offset by boisterous tremolando thrumming in the second violins, which the first violins and violas counter with descending scales in semiquavers. The oboes then supply becalming sustained notes which the strings serenely welcome. Both rondo theme and episode are repeated, the latter with small differences which add to one’s sense of increasing precipitation. For coda (1:10) the head of the rondo theme is followed by the violins relishing rising scales in scoops of semiquavers before almost everyone takes up rising and falling semiquavers. So, this CD ends with a big bang: fabulous energy within a terse timescale. Klumpp, timing the rondo at 2:20 against Fischer’s 3:00 (Dacapo 6.220542, recorded 2008) makes the latter seem comparatively plodding, though Fischer does bring more shine and beneficence to the oboes in the quiet passages. This epitomises my compared conductors’ contrasting approaches: Fischer favours more nuance, Klumpp more verve.

Michael Greenhalgh

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