The primary occasion for this writing was Emmanuel Music’s fine performance of Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, under Music Director Ryan Turner. However, two extraordinary recordings of works Mozart composed during those busy final months of his life have appeared, as downloads from Pristine Classics, and they are not only magnificent in themselves, but they provide an enlightening context for this somewhat elusive opera seria. These recordings are of the legendary 1951 Salzburg performance of Die Zauberflöte under Wilhelm Furtwängler in the spectacularly improved sound we have come to expect from Andrew Rose, and a magnificent studio recording of the Requiem under Sir Thomas Beecham from 1954-56.
The Boston Symphony began the new year with a reduced ensemble, brilliantly conducted by the early music specialist Ton Koopman. The orchestra didn’t attempt gut strings or period winds and percussion in any way, but the players responded intuitively to Koopman’s brisk tempi and sprung phrasing, resulting in a satisfyingly vigorous, if not quite revelatory Haydn Symphony No. 98, the last of his first set of Salomon symphonies, followed by Yo-Yo Ma’s exuberant, somewhat exaggerated performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, a most welcome and impeccably played symphony by C. P. E. Bach, and a very beautiful Schubert “Unfinished,” limpid in texture and phrased with fine taste and feeling. I’ll say more about this in the context of Alan Gilbert’s almost simultaneous concert, which also paired Schubert’s Eighth with a Haydn symphony of an entirely different kind.
The Scottish composer James MacMillan is not nearly as well-known in the United States as he is in Britain. Hence it is a good thing that an outstanding recording of his St. John Passion is available from LSO Live for purchase as discs or as an iTunes download, as the BSO prepares to perform it under Sir Colin Davis, who commissioned the work as part of his 80th birthday celebrations. There is no better introduction to a composer or to a work than simply to listen to it, and a recording fills the requirement nicely, especially of a performance by Sir Colin, who has a special gift in presenting unfamiliar music with the passionate convication that it is the very best of its kind.