Seiji Ozawa / Mito Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Symphony No. 40; Sinfonia concertante

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Free of a star conductor system into which he never quite seemed to fit, Seiji Ozawa has embarked on quite a variety of activities. This recording, apparently part of an upcoming series from Sony, finds him back on home turf, at the podium of Japan's Mito Chamber Orchestra. This is a live recording, and one must object that nothing in the packaging tells the potential buyer this. At one point in the Symphony No. 40 in G minor either Ozawa or an enthusiastic front-row listener hums along with the bass line. This said, the engineering is excellent, and there's a fine, lively quality to the performance. Ozawa is in excellent form. The booklet notes outline various historical perspectives on the Symphony No. 40: it has been heard as "a supreme expression of suffering and terror," a manifestation of Hellenic grace," and even as an apotheosis of the spirit of comic opera. Ozawa find something else again in the piece: a quite modern unease and nervousness, held in check by precision of expression. Hear the treatment of the figure leading into the B flat cadence in the finale, usually taken as a moment of lightness and grace: Ozawa completely de-emphasizes this, placing the focus on the clipped, brisk first theme. The Mito Chamber Orchestra responds with impressively accurate wind work, and in general the dimensions of the performance are just right, something Ozawa would have found hard to accomplish at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The booklet is a bit less informative on the version of the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major for flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, and orchestra in E flat major, K. Anh. 9, telling you only that Mozart is known to have written a work for this combination, but that the manuscript was lost. This doesn't give you any idea of how scholar Robert Levin could have reconstructed it. What actually happened is that a work surfaced years later, in an unknown handwriting that was not Mozart's, for four solo instruments -- with a clarinet instead of the flute -- and orchestra, purporting to be Mozart's work. Although some have argued it isn't Mozart at all, Levin worked backward from this manuscript. The case for the work's authenticity is strong; the wind writing has Mozart's assured quality, and the final set of variations sounds like the Parisian Mozart. The soloists -- three Japanese and one apparently Danish -- acquit themselves especially well here. This is a Mozart disc that, despite problems in the presentation, holds up much better than most others by "name" conductors.

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