MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 31 (Paris), 33, and 34 (K. 297, 319 and 338)
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto/Peter Maag, cond.
ARTS 47398 (B) (DDD) TT: 64:19 

Peter Maag, by now surely a septuagenarian, has been puzzling for most of his long career—a Swiss-born conductor capable of uncommon and sometimes extraordinary performances on discs and in the opera house, but never the occupant of a major orchestral post anywhere in the world. As music director of the Bern Orchestra, he remade his benchmark version of Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony (still available on a London Treasury CD), plus Mendelssohn's "Italian" along with several overtures. I heard the latter collection on an IMP CD, but the strident recorded sound was unlistenable, and so I traded it.

Here Maag turns up with his current orchestra (or so it was in 1997, when this disc was recorded), shared by Venice and Padua, which performs robustly under his direction. Mozart has been a Maag specialty, along with Mendelssohn, for all of his career (I remember vivid performances of Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte with the Chicago Lyric in 1961, and a vigorous Fidelio in 1962 that was marred but not spoiled by an orchestra that couldn't cut it in those years). And then he disappeared.

I saw this CD while browsing, and the price was budget enough to warrant purchase, even though the Orchestra of Padua and Venice is new to my CD repertoire. It has the marked advantage of being stylish without sounding like a collection of shrill- and/or- screechy  "ancient" instruments (these often "conducted" by overly-ambitious harpsichordists and/or organists). The Padua/Venice players use modern instruments on which they prove happily adept, while Maag has lost nothing of his former buoyancy in Mozart. These are sanguine, fleet, prevailingly stylish readings by a second-level orchestra under a first-level maestro, with every passing year a rarer bird in this era of widespread mediocrity. Orchestral proficiency cannot validate a lot of lumpen on the world's podiums.

R.D. (Sept. 1999)