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Dip Your Ears, No. 46 (Haffner & Linz)

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W.A.Mozart, Symphonies nos. 35 "Haffner" & 36 "Linz",
J. Bélohlávek / Prague Philharmonia
Harmonia Mundi

Genius, as Fast as Possible

“I shall work as fast as possible, and – as far as haste permits – I shall write well” were Mozart’s words to his Herr Papa when he accepted the commission for a serenade that was to celebrate Siegmund Haffner’s elevation into the nobility. The opening double octave upward leap might seduce to attach symbolic meaning to the work – but the six movement serenade had a different opening before ‘WAM’ reworked it into the symphony that we know now as no. 35 – the “Haffner.” (He did so mainly through cuts in the score and additions in the orchestration.)

I rather hear the Così fan tutte overture in it (single octave downward leaps) – but that’s fairly superficial, too. Clear enough, though, is the fact that Mozart wrote very well and haste be damned. With works like that, it’s no wonder that the perception that Mozart’s music just flowed from his pen onto paper in instant perfection manifested itself. It’s true enough in this case and that of the following symphony, no. 36 “Linz” – also on this recording with the Prague Philharmonic under Jiří Bélohlávek – which Mozart composed in four days when he needed a symphony for a concert in Linz but had forgotten to pack any into his suitcase. But Mozart had to labor hard on plenty of occasions, even if that never did keep critics (me on occasion among them) from labeling him “master of (pretty) perfection,” which is shorthand for “how dare anyone compare him to Beethoven”. Listen to any of his six mature great symphonies, and you’d never want to interrupt it midway for any of Beethoven’s, though – no matter how much higher you’d place LvB in a (perfectly meaningless) ‘top-ten’ list of composers.

The Haffner is Mozart at his Mozartian best, if not quite yet the symphony in which he would show the way to the ‘modern’ symphony that led from the “Linz” to the “Jupiter” to Beethoven and eventually the Romantic symphonies. The Finale-Presto is a whirlwind with the Praguers (Pragueians?), much in accordance with Mozart’s dictum that the finale be played “as fast as possible.” At under four minutes Mozart injects a little microuniverse of classical music into a moment the length of which it takes a Bruckner symphony just to take a breath. The Adagio opening of the “Linz,” before it falls into a more traditional Allegro spiritoso, is a bolder move in the development of the form than we can now discern. Fortunately Guido Fischer’s excellent liner notes help out – and allow hacks like me to shamelessly appropriate so that we may seem particularly erudite.

The music, we could have known without any of the above, is a delight. But the interpretation makes it a particular one. Zest and feisty playing make the fast movements especially exciting. The young orchestra – just over ten years ‘old’ – excels and plays significantly better that what Ionarts has heard from the Prague Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center recently. If the timings on this disc seem glacial compared to Böhm's still competitive 1960s recordings, it’s because Bélohlávek takes every repeat while Böhm doesn’t bother.

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