Mozart: Le Testament Symphonique by Le Concert Des Nations
During the summer of 1788, aged only thirty-two, Mozart achieved a monumental feat of compositional greatness: in just one and a half months, he completed symphonies 39, 40 and 41, to which he referred collectively as his ‘Symphonic Testament’. Despite this most artistically fruitful period in the composer’s life, he was experiencing significant financial hardship, evidenced by the desperate letter he sent to a ‘brother’ at the masonic lodge in which he pleaded for a loan. Quite surprisingly, Mozart apparently received no commission for the symphonies – he simply composed for composition’s sake. Conductor Nikolas Harnoncourt argues that together the three symphonies are one unified work: 39 is the overture, 40 is without a proper ‘finale’, and 41 majestically concludes all that has come before it.
Jordi Savall – gambist, musical director and prolific recording artist – leads his orchestra Le Concerts des Nations in a dazzling performance of Mozart’s last three symphonies, alongside ‘Maurerische Trauermusik’ (‘Masonic Funeral Music’). Savall acknowledges that it’s hard to imagine the ‘unremitting distress of Mozart’s daily life’ when viewed through the prism of such extraordinary orchestral music – there is certainly a disconnect between reality and art. Or perhaps it was this adversity that inspired Mozart to produce such great work within an inconceivably short time frame.
Regardless, Savall’s recording is of his usual high standard. The musicians of Le Concert des Nations play period instruments, and deliver a performance that is fine, sharp, boisterous, and occasionally solemn. A personal favourite is the first movement of Symphony No. 40 for its dark and agitated opening theme, which quickly expands into something quite warm and magisterial. Under Savall’s direction the orchestra is magnificent, producing a luscious sound that one might not usually associate with period instruments. A recording sure to pique renewed interest in Mozart’s greatest orchestral compositions.