When a conductor undertakes the colossal task of recording the entire Mozart symphonic canon, it's pretty safe to assume that a great deal of research went into interpreting the music; and who better to perform the works of Mozart than an orchestra from Prague, the town that adored him. Add Telarc's marvelous digital sound quality into the performance and the result is a recording to die for.
Mackerras' accounts of Mozart's final two symphonies are the most enjoyable, authentic, and technically flawless renderings of these masterpieces I have ever come across. The balance and tone of the Prague Chamber Orchestra is perfect and articulations during fast passages are extremely crisp and clear. The orchestra never sounds distant or muddled, and the music is always exciting.
In the excellent liner notes, Mackerras explains his research into Mozart's original manuscripts in an effort to get as close as possible to performing the music as the composer intended. The orchestra observes all repeats (including the development/recapitulation of sonata form movements), and also adds a subtle basso continuo that is never intrusive.
What stands out the most in Mackerras' interpretation is his choice of faster tempos, especially in the inner movements. The Andantes of both symphonies are often played as Adagios by other orchestras, and Mackerras correctly observes the Andante designation, which, after hearing so many other conductors plod through second movements, is a great relief and gives the movement new life and beauty. Likewise, the minuets are taken at a swift one beat per bar which Mackerras explains is more authentic. Again, this interpretation adds much energy to the dance movements.
For those who are interested, Mackerras performs K550 with the original instrumentation of two oboes and no clarinets rather than the revised edition which included a pair of both. Likewise, only the first violin parts in the Andante of K551 are muted (most performances also mute the second violins). Mackerras made this decision after consulting Mozart's autographed manuscript and concluded that the composer intended to mute the first violins only. Mackerras admits in the liner notes that the change gave the movement more clarity.
Finally, the wind parts, which are often dominated by the strings in other performances, are brought out quite nicely, making their statements when called for and then tastefully retreating back behind the string melodies. The horns in the trio of K550's minuet are especially lovely, as are the flute and double reed solos in the finale of K551.
Having heard more performances of these works than I care to mention, I can say with conviction that these accounts are hands down the most perfect and sublime renderings available today. Add it to immediately to your collection, it's an absolute steal.