For many, perhaps most, listeners, Mozart's symphonies are the peak of his orchestral works. Although the first 20 or so are relatively immature works, the next dozen are fully mature masterpieces and the last half-dozen made Mozart's reputation as one of the supreme symphonists. Because while the first 20 or so are brilliantly polished and wonderfully energetic works, and the next dozen are gorgeously elegant and marvelously colorful works, the last half dozen are incredibly deep and unbelievably high, intensely human, and essentially sublime works whose melodies, harmonies, counterpoints, and rhythms are the artistic incarnation of the eternal and the infinite. So for many, perhaps most, listeners, the question is not "Shall I get a set of Mozart's symphonies?," but "Which set of Mozart's symphonies should I get?"
There are several good reasons for trying this one by Neville Marriner leading the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields issued as part of Philips' complete Mozart Edition in 1991. Although the recordings were made in the '70s, the sound is crisp and deep with the special Philips' combination of clarity and immediacy that no other label had at the time. The performances themselves are strongest in the first 30 or so symphonies. Marriner and the Academy are as light, sprightly, and sparkling as one could ask and the ineffable glimmer of the music has rarely been so well caught. The last half-dozen symphonies are as well played and as elegantly conducted, but compared with the depths of Furtwängler's mysticism, the heights of Walter's lyricism, the weight of Klemperer's gravity, or the warmth of Böhm's humanity, they may ultimately seem less satisfying. Still, Furtwängler, Walter, Klemperer, and Böhm rarely led the first three-dozen symphonies, leaving the field open to Marriner.