“Representing no occasion, no immediate purpose but an appeal to eternity” was how Albert Einstein, (the music critic, not the physicist/philosopher) described Mozart’s last three symphonies. How can such sublime music exist without either social or creative context? They have, rightly, assumed an almost mystical aura.
The late Nikolaus Harnoncourt always used to perform them together as he regarded them to be essentially one work. Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic have set new standards in these performances with the wind breathtakingly behind their virtuosic wings: everything seems perfect. I wish I had more space to expatiate on the adrenalin-charged felicities of these accounts. They embody a rare and wondrous fusion of both interpretive “worlds”: the heft and scale of a great symphony orchestra in full cry, with the drama and detail of historically informed or influenced approach.
In the Symphony No 39, the clarinets seem more present than ever, and seem to enhance the cheerful bustle, especially in their most prominent appearance in the Trio of the Menuetto. I was glad Rattle observed the repeat in the finale, as, without it, the ending seems abrupt. In the G Minor, the opening mood reminded me of Benjamin Britten’s superb, late-60s account with its “do not go gentle into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light” undercurrents. The slow movement is a marvel of major-key lyricism before the relentlessly dark Menuetto.
In the Jupiter, it’s hard to avoid the cliché “crowning glory” as the thrusting opening seems aflame with trumpets and drums (light years away from what now seem the flaccid performances of this music with this orchestra by the likes of Karl Böhm). The entire reading seems in a state of heightened awareness with the knife-edge virtuosity especially exhilarating during the counterpoint of the finale to this apotheosis of the Classical symphony.