As Donald Francis Tovey writes in his eminently useful Essays in Musical Analysis, Mozart’s three last symphonies, written in 1788 over six weeks, “express the healthiest of reactions on each other” and, being “in Mozart’s ripest style makes the full range of that style appear more vividly than in any other circumstances. Consequently, they make an ideal programme when played in their chronological order.”
Thus does one often hear them, as a kind of triptych or three-movement, Major-Minor-Major meta-symphony, both in concert and on record. And thus does one hear them in this instance, recorded live during the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s 2015 Mozart’s Last Symphonies national tour, which commemorated 25 years since the great Frans Brüggen conducted the orchestra in the same programme. It was also Tognetti’s first year as leader.
Listening again to Brüggen’s last great pronouncement on these three symphonies (for the Glossa label in 2014), one marvels anew at the way he shapes the Orchestra of the 18th Century’s lithe, colourful responses to Mozart’s almost Shakespearean combination of low comedy and high seriousness. But it is to John Eliot Gardiner’s live 2006 recording of Symphonies Nos 39 and 41 that we must turn to find something like the capacious combination of passion and intellect with which Tognetti and a superbly on-form ACO gather together every detail of the musical architecture into swathes of broad, fine-grained gestures.
The Symphony No 39 in E Flat’s opening Adagio-Allegro feels like a genuine introduction to the set as a whole. And while its Sturm und Drang qualities are made to foreshadow No 40’s darker, G Minor soundworld, the rambunctious handling of the fourth-movement Allegro and crisply articulated descending figurations point forwards to No 41’s Molto Allegro, surely one of the most exhilarating orchestral finales in all music – especially when performed with the explosive energy and almost ruthless clarity as it is here.