These performances are so exhilarating that I listened to all four symphonies straight through at a first hearing, mesmerised by the variety and intensity of the music itself, sounding here completely fresh, and the virtually flawless renderings by the excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with Sir Charles Mackerras at his most penetrating. Perhaps the first thing that strikes one is the rawness of so much of this music, emphasised in accounts which give encouragement to the winds to blow their hardest, and with a string section of only 24 players. Then there is the scale: the first movements of the 'Prague' Symphony lasts for 18 minutes, since Mackerras takes every repeat. In such a rich and innovative movement, that is certainly justified, but it shows Mozart working on what is normally thought of as a Beethovenian scale. The strenuous seriousness and originality of Mozart's outer movements, and the colour of his orchestration, maybe shouldn't come as any surprise, but the wonderful thing here is that for almost anyone, I think, they will. Mackerras doesn't short-change us on the tenderness and often painful lyricism, either, nor is he afraid to relax the tempo as a festive or belligerent motif gives way to a gentler one, with the strings, despite their small number, ravishing us with their tone.
Obviously there are a few points where one can differ; given that the minuet of the 40th Symphony is marked allegretto, I was surprised to hear it played so briskly, when a slower tempo would underline its grimness. And on the matter of repeats, wouldn't it be permissible to play many of them but not all? As it is, what we get is two whole performances of each work, with tiny exceptions. If each section of a minuet is repeated the first time, need there be repetitions the second time round? I only ask. Whatever one's small reservations, these two discs show as clearly as any I know the largeness of the human spirit, and renew one's astonishment at Mozart's sovereign genius.