Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his last three symphonies in the summer of 1788, and since then they've usually been regarded as a set, even though there's little reason to believe he intended them to be performed together. Unlike Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who came to regard these symphonies as a kind of symphonic oratorio in 12 movements, Richard Tognetti thinks of them as separate pieces that Mozart wrote opportunistically, possibly for a commission that fell through, though beyond that, he lets the music speak for itself.
Schubert's 'Tragic' Symphony and Mozart's 'Paris' Symphony are performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Wiener Musikvereinsaal in 1984. Harnoncourt goes back to Schubert's original manuscripts to perform the music in its purest form. Harnoncourt joined forces with The Chamber Orchestra of Europe for Mozart's last symphonies (Nos. 39-41), performed at the Wiener Musikvereinssaal in 1991. Known throughout the world for his highly original approach to classical music, conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt reveres Mozart as 'the most romantic composer of all'.
Here's a set of the best of Mozart's symphonies performed by the well-respected Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. These are reissues of recordings made in the 1980s, and although half were done in the studio and half were live, there is really no significant difference in sound.
Because Mozart's earliest symphonies are performed less often than the later masterpieces and are consequently underrepresented on disc, Nikolaus Harnoncourt's period performances with Concentus Musicus Wien may have an added value beyond sheer musical excellence. Much has been written about how these works are miraculous manifestations of the young Mozart's genius, and their consistently high quality obviates criticism for their few shortcomings. But these symphonies really do sound magical and even startling in Harnoncourt's vital renditions, and Concentus Musicus delivers them with boisterous enthusiasm and full bow, with absolutely no precious Rococo affectations. Brisk tempi, tight ensemble playing and the clear timbres of original instruments contribute to the authenticity of the performances, but these may count less than the gusto, humor, and freshness that the musicians display in each work. The woodwinds and horns are especially robust and earthy, and Harnoncourt draws out their distinctive colors and striking rhythms to contrast them more effectively with the strings. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi's sound is immaculate, without doubt the best the label can offer, and the acoustics of Kasino Zögernitz are ideal for balance and resonance.(Blair Sanderson)
It's a recording that just a few years ago would have been mainstream: a "name" pianist (albeit one much less well known in the U.S. than elsehwere), who has been playing Mozart's piano concertos since childhood, joins forces with a name conductor with whom she has frequently collaborated, leading a modern-instrument orchestra of some 70 players, with the results released on a major international-conglomerate label. Now it's distinctly unusual. But lo, there's value in the old ways. Portuguese-Brazilian pianist Maria-João Pires is a lifelong Mozart specialist, but she still has new things to say in two of Mozart's most popular piano concertos. You can chalk it up to her Buddhist outlook if you like: her readings of the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595, and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, might be described as detached without being lifeless. Her approach is most startling in the Piano Concerto No. 20, where her no-drama shaping of the material runs sharply counter to type. Sample the piano's entrance in the first movement, where it offers a twisting, tense elaboration of the main theme that is far removed from its source material. Generally pianists use this to raise the tension level, but Pires lets the unusually shaped, chromatic line speak for itself with fine effect.