"Your favorite Western composer is Mozart?" Conway asked. "That is so," the High Lama replied. "Mozart has an austere elegance which we find very satisfying. He builds a house that is neither too big not too little, and he furnishes it in perfect taste."
So wrote James Hilton in Lost Horizons and it's as true now as it was in 1933. Okay, so the "build a house" metaphor may be a bit overdone, but the phrase "austere elegance" is still just about as perfect a description of Mozart at his best. And his best would certainly include his last three symphonies -- the supremely lyrical E flat major, the tragically dramatic G minor, and the sublimely contrapuntal C major. The High Lama would smile if he'd lived to hear these austerely elegant -- and profoundly human -- performances of Mozart's last three symphonies with Günter Wand leading the NDR Sinfonieorchester in recordings from 1990 and 1994. Wand was best known as a master of heavyweight late Romantics like Bruckner and Brahms, but he was also a consummate Mozart conductor and these performances are lean and lyrical, strong and dramatic, detailed and, above all, sublime. In Wand's performances, everything sings, everything means something, and everything leads somewhere, to wit, straight to transcendence. If Conway ever did make it back to Shangri-La, he no doubt took an iPod with him so that he could always have this tangible proof of humanity's essential goodness. RCA's digital sound is just about transparent.