Is there anything that Zubin Mehta doesn't do well? It is astonishing these Mozart symphony recordings from the late 70s are just now seeing the light of day on CD. For they are among the most enjoyable I've heard. It is a pity Mehta and Decca did not record a "complete" set of the later symphonies (say from the mid #20s through #41) in Israel. What we do get are #34, 39 & 40. Unbounded joy and freshness pervade every bar - aided by alert, crisp playing from all departments of the Israel Philharmonic, especially the excellent strings sections. Mehta was always a stickler for crisply articulated bowing from his strings, and this is evident here and pays enormous dividends. Why do so many conductors today allow their strings to play with inarticulate, mushy, on-the-string bowing? It's a mystery, especially after hearing how glorious it is when played correctly, as on this set.
What makes this set an even greater joy is the glorious recording quality. The Israel Phil has so often been hampered by lackluster sound in a dry, sterile acoustic. This has often limited the overall enjoyment to be had from many of their recordings. Not so here; somehow the Decca engineers have captured this fine orchestra in a resplendent acoustic, with warmth and body of tone. It is not dry; it is not cold; it is not artificial. It is as natural as any orchestral recorded acoustic you'll hear. And the Israel Phil plays their hearts out for Zubin Mehta. One can only wonder why this has never been released on CD before now.
Starting off this program is a smiling Marriage of Figaro Overture with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, although without the outright verve and edge-of-your-seat excitement of Solti's with the LPO. Also included is quite the most enjoyable account of the ubiquitous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (back in Israel) I've encountered. This piece is so often played and recorded one grows weary at its recurrence. But in Mehta's hands, it is as fresh as the day it was written. I can never recall enjoying it as much as here (and I wasn't really even in the mood to listen to it!). And having all repeats included, is a rare and wonderful treat, confirming once again the supremacy of Mozart's creation when played exactly as he wrote it.
Two vocal excerpts sung by Anne Sofie von Otter round off disc 2. I'm not sure how these fit in with the all-orchestral program or why they were included here. They don't add substantially to the playing time, lasting less than 8 minutes. But I guess one can never have too much Mozart!
All in all, this is one of Mehta's very best records, released at last on CD. And it is absolutely, without doubt, one of my very favorite Mozart collections of all time. We owe such a great debt of gratitude to this superlative label for bringing us so many fabulous rare recordings from the vaults. Oh how I wish Mehta had recorded more Mozart orchestral music in Israel.