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Bookspan: The Best of Mozart

David Finlayson / Courtesy Of Artists

Anthony McGill

David Finlayson / Courtesy Of Artists

The November 2014 edition of Looking Back to Bookspan’s “101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers” features important works created by the man Martin Bookspan called “one of the principal divinities of music,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Purchase links below)

As his music is so well-known and so much has been written about Mozart, I find I am reluctant to make any observations about his works or his life. Instead I will suggest you seek out these two books: Otto Jahn’s scholarly biography of Mozart (published in 1865), and Maynard Soloman’s “Mozart: A Life” (published in 1995). Of course, the commentary on Mozart and his works provided Martin Bookspan will give you a wonderful introduction to this finest of classical music composers. Bookspan chose to include seven Mozart masterpieces in his book: the Piano Concerto Number 20, the Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, the Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for Violin and Viola, the Symphony Number 35 “Haffner,” and Mozart’s last three symphonies, Numbers 39, 40 and 41.

Bookspan calls Daniel Barenboim’s recording of the Piano Concerto Number 20 “a superbly committed performance, with meticulous attention to phrasing and dynamics and a broad sweep to the entire conception.”

It was reissued by Warner Classics along with three other late piano concertos by Mozart played by Barenboim. For a modern recording you can select either Vassily Primakov’s CD, paired with the 21st and 11th concertos, or try Leif Ove Andsnes’s recording, paired with Mozart’s 17th.

Mozart’s Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings is a near perfect example how chamber music for a small number of instruments can be a great work of art with high cultural value.

One of Bookspan’s recommendations, the excellent performance from Gervase de Peyer and the Melos Ensemble, continues to be available. I find it difficult to choose from several fine recent recordings of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, but here are two I can recommend without hesitation: the performance by the Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst (paired with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto) and the 2014 release from Anthony McGill and the Pacifica String Quartet (paired with the Brahms B minor Quintet for Clarinet and Strings).

When included on concert programs, the solo parts for Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra are often played by the principal violinist and principal violist to showcase the talents of those important members of orchestra. Such is the case for one of Martin Bookspan’s recommended recordings of the work. If you don’t mind purchasing the MP3 download (the CD version is no longer available), you can choose the performance from Rafael Druian and Abraham Skernick with George Szell leading the Cleveland Orchestra. At the time of this writing the download will cost you around $40. However, the download is the equivalent of 10 CDs; the entire catalogue of Columbia Masterworks recordings conductor George Szell made of Mozart’s music.

Fans of the great Heifetz will enjoy another Bookspan reissued recommendation, the CD featuring Jascha Heifetz, William Primrose and conductor Izler Solomon. The dryness of the sound on this 1962 recording (there is very little resonance at all) may be a drawback for some listeners. Choose the 2009 recording from violinist Renaud Capuçon, violist Antoine Tamestit, and conductor Louis Langrée and you’ll also have added to your collection Capuçon’s performances of Mozart’s Violin Concertos 1, 2 and 3.

Even from the early days of his career Daniel Barenboim was considered a fine Mozart interpreter both at the piano and on the podium. Bookspan recommends Barenboim’s recording made with the English Chamber Orchestra of Mozart’s Symphony Number 35 “Haffner.” It is available as a two-disc reissue that includes Barenboim’s fine readings of the 36th, 40th and 41st Mozart symphonies.
A more modern but still budget-priced counterpart to the Barenboim is from conductor Jukka-Pekka Sarasta. Sarasta’s double-disc set includes the Mozart symphonies 32, 35, 36, 39 and 41. Either the vintage or modern selection will make an excellent way to begin your collection of Mozart symphonies.

You can also take the “collect the set” approach when choosing either vintage or modern recordings of the Symphonies Number 39, Number 40 and Number 41 by Mozart. Martin Bookspan consistently recommends conductor Bruno Walter’s performances of those final three Mozart symphonies. Even with their sound quality limitations people still wax poetic about Walter’s recordings. Grab up the fantastic six-CD set reissued by Sony; you’ll never find a better Mozart bargain. And for a modern set that will also stand the test of time you can confidently choose the performances released in 2008 by conductor Charles Mackerras. This set on Linn Records, even better than Mackerras’s Telarc recordings, features benchmark interpretations of the Mozart Symphonies 38, 39, 40 and 41.


Mozart: Piano Concerto Number 20; Barenboim/English Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Piano Concerto Number 20; Primakov/Odense Symphony Orchestra

Mozart: Piano Concerto Number 20; Andsnes/Norwegian Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet; Gervase de Peyer/Melos Ensemble

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet; Martin Fröst/Vertavo String Quartet

Mozart : Clarinet Quintet; Anthony McGill/Pacifica String Quartet

Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola; Druian/Skernick/Szell/Cleveland Orchestra

Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola; Heifetz/Primrose/Solomon/RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra

Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola; Capuçon/Tamestit/Langrée/Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Symphony Number 35 “Haffner”; Barenboim/English Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Symphony Number 35 “Haffner”; Sarasta/Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Symphony Number 35 “Haffner”;  Walter/Columbia Symphony Orchestra

Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 38-41; Walter/Columbia Symphony Orchestra

Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 38-41/Mackerras/Scottish Chamber Orchestra


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