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Determined Mozart lacks warmth and purpose

Determined Mozart lacks warmth and purpose
Determined Mozart lacks warmth and purpose
One wonders why. 

Why record more Mozart symphonies? What’s special about these that merits a recording of them? Seriously, BIS – a clarinet player who has decided he wants to be a conductor and you’re all in to record him? That certainly doesn’t make them “special” in my book.

But let’s give this a listen and see if Michael Collins has anything to say from the podium.
The short answer is – No; not really. Focusing on the outer movements, these readings are vigorous but curiously not invigorating. They sound driven, joyless and devoid of charm and finesse. And BIS emphasizes the displeasure with thin, boisterous recorded sound. One would never guess this is the Philharmonia Orchestra.
I find this odd. The Philharmonia is one of the best in the world and could never possibly be described as sounding “thin”. So why do they sound that way here? There sounds to be a full complement of strings, and Collins does not insist they play with any suggestion of “period performance” techniques. Thus the strings (and woodwinds) play with vibrato. But there is no warmth. And even the phrasing isn’t very expressive. Tempos are very swift (which under normal circumstances would be a good thing) but there isn’t a joyful impetus to them. Speeds are fast merely because the conductor is beating time that way. And ultimately that is what we have here – a conductor who is merely beating time, rather than inspiring musical involvement from the players sitting in front of him.

The inner movements fare better. Collins relaxes his grip on the rigid tempos a little, allowing various solos and instrumental choirs time to shape musical phrases. However, I still miss a sense of singing lines. For even here, there is a matter-of-fact directness which merely gets to the point and moves on to the next breathless Allegro.
I will not belabor the point but will close with a quick summarization of this recording. These are determined, rather heartless readings which sound exactly like “readings”. Only rarely does the music-making sound inspired. The Philharmonia dutifully plays all the notes with expert precision at the speeds in which they are led by the waving hands in front of them. But the orchestra lacks warmth and color, and the bold, forward recorded sound highlights the whiplash dynamics and hard banging timpani – emphasizing the noisy, busyness of the scores. Whether this is all Collins’s doing, or the BIS engineers, or the slightly dry hall acoustic – I cannot say. I suspect it’s a concerted combination of all three.
Finally, I do wish Mr. Collins would stick to clarinet playing. And BIS should know better than to produce this. Frankly, it’s rather amateurish and gratuitous. There are countless other recordings of these glorious Mozart symphonies which are infinitely more rewarding.

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