MOZART: LATE SYMPHONIES

Wiener Philharmoniker/Leonard Bernstein

***1/2

MOZART: EARLY PIANO CONCERTOS

Mitsuko Uchida

****

MOZART: HAYDEN STRING QUARTETS

Quatuor Ysaye

****1/2

Listening to Mozart is not just an incredibly enjoyable experience, a number of studies have shown it can also stimulate intelligence. These claims started with a French physician Dr Alfred Tomatis, who in the 1950s proposed that certain melodies help stimulate the language centres of the brain. Such claims have since been confirmed and refined by a series of university studies. Don Campbell used this research in his bestseller The Mozart Effect about the healing power of music.

If you listen to Mozart closely it is not difficult to discern why his music might have positive neurological effects. Mozart's music displays a delicate balance between the complex and the simple so it is at once immediately accessible and surprising. There is a certain predicability about his rhythms and melodic progressions but they are never wholly known.

No emotion is foreign to Mozart. Although his early piano concertos are largely playful and exuberant they too contain passages of wistful reflection. Mitsuko Uchida has produced some very notable recordings over the last 15 years with her Mozart and Schubert cycles and this re-release of six early Mozart concertos in the Philips Duo series is to be welcomed. Uchida has a lightness of touch and reflective approach that prove perfect for these pieces. She nimbly works her way through the more extrovert passages but brings a particular power to the slower movements. Her playing of the second movement of the 6th concerto for example is delightful, each note is knowingly and lovingly played and we gain a unique sense of single notes dancing together to make up a melodic whole.

Leonard Bernstein is not someone I associate strongly with Mozart and I approached this DG Trios reissue of his Mozart Late Symphonies with a mixture of curiosity and some scepticism. But I was very happily impressed. Bernstein had a special relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic and he gets some dazzling results from them on these discs. Obviously this is big sound Mozart but Bernstein gives us very directed performances that establish the themes with clarity and carry them through vibrantly. He is surprisingly fast with his tempos in most of the symphonies (drags a bit on No 39) giving us fervent characteristic Bernstein readings. The performances of the Haffner and the Jupiter are particularly strong. I still prefer the more intimate sound of smaller forces and period instruments for Mozart but Bernstein certainly delivers deeply felt and exciting renditions.

The six "Hayden" String Quartets that Mozart dedicated to his older colleague are some of the most entrancing music that Mozart wrote. Take the third movement of the G major quartet — you can hear the whole history of music in these eight minutes. There is the form of the classical, the lyricism of the romantic and the hint of something even more robust on the very edge of dissonance. Mozart also delivers exquisite melodies, delightful counterpoint, a meandering progression but an unerring sense of structure. The Quatuor Ysaye give fine performances on this Decca Trio reissue. They play with an ear for the modern in Mozart without sacrificing his beguiling lyricism.

Marcus O'Donnell originally published in the Sydney Star Observer