The complete Mozart Symphonies by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert is a fine set of 11 CDs, particularly for those who prefer 18th Century music performed on “authentic” instruments. I say this because by the early 1990’s when this set was recorded (1992 to 1995), performance standards for authentic instruments were heightened. Since that time, they have no doubt further improved. When compared with many other highly respected “period” ensembles of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the English Concert left little to be desired, especially in reference to certain basic factors, such as intonation and tone production. After hearing the performances, it’s easy to adjust to the different timbres of these instruments. Personally, I found nothing to be lacking.
The ensemble was led by Pinnock (1946-) from the harpsichord. Notations regarding the sections of the orchestra were listed in the accompanying booklet, with the string sections varying from a minimum of five first violins, four second violins, two violas, two cellos, and one double bass for the earlier symphonies (Written when Mozart was either eight or nine-years old!), to a maximum of eight first violins, eight second violins, four violas, four cellos, and three double basses for the later ones. Of course, the winds also varied according to Mozart’s specific requirements.
Although the last numbered symphony was “No.41,” I’ve learned that this did not mean that Mozart only wrote 41 symphonies. In fact, as explained by musicologist, Tim Carter (1954-), the earlier symphonies may not have been by Mozart at all, as his father, Leopold (1719-1787), may have occasionally “helped” his son.
Furthermore, as with Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), the numbering of the symphonies did not necessarily reflect their actual chronology. Many of the early symphonies didn’t have numbers at all and were listed instead as “Symphony in F Major K.76,” or “Symphony in D Major, K.95,” etc. There was no “Symphony No.32,” since it has been determined that with exception of the introduction, it was written by Michael Haydn (1737-1806), a friend of Mozart.
At any rate, there are 48 symphonies in this set, ranging in length from “Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major,” with a running time of six minutes and 41 seconds, to the 39-minute, 32-second “Symphony No. 41 in C Major K.551,” also known as the “Jupiter,” composed in 1788.
To my ears, I have found that regardless of the genre, Mozart’s compositions dating from his earliest years to his mid-teens are well-crafted and nice. As a rule, they don’t make much of an impression on me. However, by his late teens, he was a master, and his depth of feeling and overall compositional skills continued to increase, until his premature death at age 35. Using the symphony and string quartet genres as examples, I believe Mozart’s works could easily rival or even exceed the best efforts from Franz Joseph Haydn, in terms of overall ingenuity and brilliance. In addition, we should also remember to attribute Mozart’s initial inspiration or “templates” for these pieces to Haydn.
I can highly recommend this set, even to those accustomed to hearing Mozart’s more famous later symphonies performed on “modern” instruments.