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Beautiful Moments

Mozart wind serenades,
reviewed by

Naim    naimCD117

Mozart Wind Serenades. © 2008 Naim Audio Ltd

Mozart's works for winds, like those of his contemporaries, are generally light pieces written as background music but the two serenades recorded by the Chamber Soloists of the RPO in August last year at a concert in Cadogan Hall, London, are unusually serious for the genre. The first, in fact, is quite sombre:

Listen -- Allegro (K388)
(track 1, 0:03-1:41) © 2008 Naim Audio Ltd

Mozart called it 'Nacht Musique' but the occasion for its composition is unknown. The instrumentation is one of the two standard wind combinations of the period, comprising pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons (a sextet omitting the clarinets was the usual alternative). There are four movements -- Allegro, Andante, Minuet and trio, and a final Allegro which takes the form of a set of variations. Here is the sweetly melancholic opening of the slow movement, for contrast with the Allegro:

Listen -- Andante (K388)
(track 2, 0:01-0:32) © 2008 Naim Audio Ltd

The Serenade in B flat, known as the Gran' Partita, is larger in both instrumentation and number of movements. To the standard octet, Mozart added a pair of basset-horns (low clarinets), a second pair of horns and a double bass. There is a theory that he would have employed a contra-bassoon instead of the double bass if the instrument of his day had been up to the task, and the RPO has made the substitution. Either way, most of the extra instruments are in the lower-middle of the texture: if the ensemble were string instruments there would be four violins, six violas, two cellos and double bass -- quite strange, and with a tendency to murkiness even in Mozart's hands.

A spacious introduction leads into an 'Allegro molto', played rather sedately here:

Listen -- Largo (K361)
(track 5, 1:33-2:31) © 2008 Naim Audio Ltd

Six more movements follow: Menuetto, Adagio, another Menuetto, Romanze, Tema con Variazioni (introduced below), and a Rondo.

Listen -- Tema con Variazioni (K361)
(track 10, 0:00-1:26) © 2008 Naim Audio Ltd

Both of these Serenades are characteristic works by one of the world's favourite composers and have therefore been recorded countless times. An online search might find a dozen discs which pair the two works, and another dozen which pair one of them with other serenades or divertimentos. Exceptional qualities are needed for success in such a crowded market, and minor failings loom larger than usual.

Live recordings at their best can capture the music and the occasion with a sparkle and energy often missing from the studio but they also immortalise every sub-optimal decision. The RPO Soloists give us a good reading here with some very beautiful moments but the recorded sound is a little harsh at high dynamic levels, the balance a little erratic, and their interpretation a little heavy-footed.

Copyright © 30 September 2008 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


Mozart Wind Serenades

naimCD117 Stereo NEW RELEASE 71'23" 2008 Naim Audio Ltd

Chamber Soloists of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:
John Anderson, oboe
Timothy Watts, oboe
Douglas Mitchell, clarinet/basset horn
Thomas Watmough, clarinet/basset horn
Rachel Brown, clarinet/basset horn
Alan Andrews, clarinet/basset horn
Daniel Jemison, bassoon
Helen Simons, bassoon
David Chatterton, contra bassoon
Martin Owen, french horn
Kathryn Saunders, french horn
Andrew Fletcher, french horn
Philip Woods, french horn

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791):

Serenade No 12 in C minor K388 'Nacht Musique' (Allegro; Andante; Menuetto in Canone; Allegro)

Serenade No 10 in B flat for thirteen wind instruments K361 'Gran Partita' (Largo; Menuetto; Adagio; Menuetto - Allegretto; Romanze - Adagio; Tema con Variazioni; Rondo)



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