Mozart’s late symphonies are too often delivered with profound pomposity and reverence. René Jacobs and the Freiburger Barockorchester blow all the heavy accumulation of false tradition away. These performances must be very close to the musical textures of the composer’s own time, with the added benefit of today’s higher standards of musicianship. In a word, delectable.
Many musical scholars believe the 39th and 40th are meant to be considered part of an orchestral trio, along with Mozart’s final symphony, the 41st – Jupiter. René Jacobs has already recorded the Jupiter, coupled with the 38th. But consider that disc later. These stand fine by themselves. They are enchanting performances, faster in tempo than some, and the final movement of the 40th is in particular revelatory in its deft sprung rhythms, although the fleetness does not prevent Jacobs from bringing out properly weighted moments of contrast.
The disc is stamped with authority, from both conductor (whose Marriage of Figaro is one of my favourites) and the ensemble. If this disc does not supplant my absolute favourite recordings, from Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, that is perhaps as much to do with sentimental attachment as with absolute musical judgement.
This recording certainly stands well alongside any classic account from the past, without yielding ground on any score.