These performances come from the first ever complete set of the Mozart symphonies, dating from the 1960s, and they still represent 'big orchestra' Mozart at its most congenial. The contrast here between Bohm's sparkling Mozart, both elegant and vigorous, and the much smoother view taken by Karajan with the same orchestra, works almost entirely in Bohm's favour. Interpretatively, these are performances very much of their time, with exposition repeats the exception (as in the first movement of No. 40) and with Minuets taken at what now seem lumbering speeds. Yet slow movements flow easily, and finales bounce along infectiously. Consistently they convey the happy ease of Bohm in Mozart, even if the recording is beefy by today's standards, not as transparent as one now expects in this repertory, whether on modern or period instruments.
This was to be the end of the line for Italian word-setting by Viennese composers: once the confident sentiments that belonged to the poet Metastasio's opera seria felt the chill and threatening wind of Enlightenment and Revolution, their time was up. Even we, for the most part, prefer to remember the German-speaking Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. So it is good to be reminded of their responses to the Italian muse (usually as part of their craft-learning student work) in this particularly well-cast recital. Central Europe, in the person of Andras Schiff meets Italy, in Cecilia Bartoli, to delightful, often revelatory effect.
After the success of Così fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro, René Jacobs' CD recording of this centrepiece of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy offered us his reflections on Classical opera and garnered serious acclaim worldwide. Performed at the Innsbruck festival in August 2006 and filmed in Baden-Baden, this production is nourished by his thoughts on Don Giovanni as taboo-breaker but still respects Mozart's intentions as closely as possible.
In the documentary Looking for Don Giovanni, the director Nayo Titzin follows the creation of this production in the search for musical truth.
First things first: if you're seeing a picture of this disc on the site of an online retailer, be aware that it contains the Mass in C minor, K. 427, not the "Mass in C," promised by the cover, which would more likely be the "Coronation" Mass in C major, K. 337. It is always a shame when designers are given power of diktat over content editors. The so-called "Great" Mass in C minor is one of Mozart's most ambitious and most problematical works. There was no known immediate stimulus for its composition. Did Mozart begin writing it out of one of his rare religious impulses, on the occasion of his marriage to his bride Constanze? Out of his growing devotion to Freemasonry? Was it his first major exercise in applying the lessons in Bach-style counterpoint he had been receiving at the intellectual salons of the Baron van Swieten in Vienna? Or was it meant as a showpiece for singer Constanze with its killer soprano arias? It was all of these things and none of them, for Mozart never finished the mass.
Beethoven called Mozart's Requiem "wild and terrible", and that's what we get in Harnoncourt's new recording. Ominous dread hangs from every note of the dark opening measures, the Rex tremendae and Confutatis are driven with terrifying strength, and the supplications of the Lacrimosa, with their weeping stabbings of the orchestra, are freighted with emotional power. The Tuba mirum duet of bass soloist and trombone has a beauty almost never achieved in other readings. Nor does Harnoncourt overstep the stylistic boundaries of this classical-era work; rather, the intensity is heightened for being in the idiom of its time.