The Beginning and the End: Mozart from Il Pomo d'Oro

The most auspicious beginning ever, surely, for a Mozart symphony cycle

The Beginning and the End: Mozart from Il Pomo d'Oro

This is ehe first volume of "Complete Mozart Symphonies for the 21st Century". The format of the disc sets the stall for the rest of the cycle: an early and a late symphony juxtaposed. Here, we also have a Keyboard Concerto (listed as “Piano Concerto” but actually played on a wonderful 1823 Conrad Graf fortepiano in a copy by Chris Mason tuned to Vallotti temperament). Each volume presents what Emelyanychev calls a “bonus work, a sort of musical hors d’oeuvre

The full cycle will span six compact discs (and will be available also as downloads).

Here at Classical Explorer, we already met Il Pomo d’Oro and Maxim Emelyanychev via Joyce Di Donato’s Eden project; also, a performance of Eden at the Barbican was notably successful, while over at Opera Now magazine, in the March 2022 issue p. 67, I reviewed the ensemble’s fabulous Handel disc with singers Kathryn Lewek and John Chest (that one is directed from the harpsichord by Francesco Corti). And there’s plenty more to discover in Il Pomo d’Oro’s discography.

I wonder if Mozart’s First Symphony (K 16, written in 1764 - when Mozart was eight!) has ever been treated as well, and as seriously, as here. This is no token inclusion of a child’s first effort, it is a performance of zest, élan and, in the central Andante, beauty. The piece is treated as if it is genius already, and how it shines, like a diamond newly cleaned. The sheer energy of the opening, the massive dynamic contrasts, coupled with an exhilerating propulsion, are mesmerising. All caught in a superb recording by “Little Tribeca” at Notre-Dame du Liban, Paris:

The slow movement is glorious, the opening suspensions so expressive. This shifting soundscape forms the basis for the movement, and with Il Pomo d’Oro’s original instrument make-up, plus the care they take with phrasing, the result is incredibly colourful as well as emotionally affecting:

The finale arrives in a blaze of light, before string scurryings suggest (in this performance) the world of the opera overture:

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K 488 (1786) is far more familiar, of course. This is a refreshing, zesty account. We still ge the airiness and serenity of the key of A-Major, but there is a core of energy in this performance, too.  Emelyanychev's articulation is brilliant, his cadenza (Mozart’s) full of a sense of adventure and exploration of themes already stated:

Cast in F sharp-Minor, and famously his only movement in this key, the slow movement is a dream. It was orignally marked “Adagio” in Mozart’s manuscript (which you can view here); and later published as an “Andante’ (the YouTube below claims Adagio, while Aparté's documentation lists it as Andante). It flows perfectly, anyway, and Emelyanychev adds some lovely decorations - quite rightly, too. At one point, Mozart write simply long held notes for the soloist. (here Emelyanychev), registrally disjunct, surely inviting improvisation. That sense of improvisation is exactly what we get here. The first statement is largely as written, with just a trill at the end, but the second is very much more elaborate (%"33 - 6"04 in the YouTube immediately below):

Compare that with Daniel Barenboim’s famous English Chamber Orchestra account (from his first Mozart cycle) when he just leaves the notes to speak. This link is to the whole concerto, and the passage in question is at 17"30 - 18"04.

... and here is a video film of that movement in the new performance:

The finale, back in A-Major, is joy itself, full of character, Emelyanychev’s articulation pearly and full of life, the Graf instrument perfect for the job. Emelyanychev exults in the large intervallic leaps, too, launching himself from one note to the next:

Il Pomo d'Oro, © JBP Films

To close, Mozart’s final symphony, No. 41 in C-Major, K 551, “Jupiter”. The opening is as invigorating as they come, so together (you really notice the difference when you hear such knife-edge precision!). Trumpets and drums later bring a sense of pomp, almost; and it is impossible not to smile when the second subject comes around. Good to hear the exposition repeat, too:

Remember those suspensions and their expressive dissonance in the slow movement of the First Symphony? We hear a similar effect in the Andante cantabile second movement of this last symphony. And how graceful the lower strings later on; and how powerful the mid-movement accents as the musical surface becomes disturbed before settling once more:

A properly robust Menuetto leads to a finale that could come straight from the opera house - another link to the First Symphony performance! Here, though, it is the compositional virtuosity we hear writ large - Mozart's counterpoint is a miracle. This finale bubbles, and froths:

The most auspicious beginning ever, surely, for a Mozart symphony cycle. This is a little miracle of a disc. Maybe it’s finest achievement is raising Mozart’s First Symphony from the status of curio to substantive musical statement, but the sheer pleasure of listening to the concerto and the final symphony cannot be overstated.

The Amazon link for purchase of this excellent disc is below, as is that for the Handel disc mentioned above: the Spotify link is here.