Serenade No 13, ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’. Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546 Anonymous (arr L Mozart) Cassation in G, ‘Toy Symphony’ Pachelbel Canon and Gigue
Academy of St Martin in the Fields / Sir Neville Marriner
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Sir Neville Marriner here collects a miscellaneous group of popular classical and Baroque pieces in characteristically polished and elegant performances. The only roughness – and that deliberate – is in the extra toy percussion of Leopold Mozart’s Cassation, with its long-misattributed Toy Symphony. The anonymous extra soloists enjoy themselves as amateurs might, not least on a wind machine, but what’s very hard to take is the grotesquely mismatched cuckoo-whistle, an instrument which should readily be tunable.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik brings a performance plainly designed to caress the ear of traditional listeners wearied with period performance. The second-movement Romanze is even more honeyed than usual on muted strings. The oddity of the Pachelbel item is that the celebrated Canon – taken unsentimentally if sweetly at a flowing speed – is given a reprise after the Gigue. The recording is warm and well balanced.
Serenade No 7, ‘Haffner’. March, K249
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra / Gordan Nikolitch (vn)
Pentatone PTC5186 097 (57' · DDD) Buy from Amazon
The Haffner, a wedding serenade for the marriage of Elizabeth Haffner in July 1776, was an outdoor summer piece, which was not good for the band, whose members were expected to move around. Thus there are no timpani; and certainly no cellos, because there were aristocratic guests (the bride’s father had been burgomaster of Salzburg), so lowly musicians couldn’t sit while they stood. When Mozart later shortened this eight-movement work to a five-movement ‘symphony’, he enhanced the orchestration with cellos and drums.
Gordan Nikolitch goes further. He incorporates these instruments into the original format, thus turning the Serenade into a fuller work. It has a stately expansiveness that only switches to a militaristic snap in the first movement of the Serenade, percussion now lending point both to a regal Allegro maestoso and, leading from it, a fiery alla breve Allegro molto. In the following Andante, the first of three ‘violin concerto’ movements, Nikolitch shows that he is as superlative a violin soloist as he is a conductor, as unerring in his understanding of lyrical eloquence as he is of dramatic timing. He never puts a foot wrong. Neither does Pentatone’s production, which keeps the perspectives steady (for example, the violin is properly balanced with the ensemble and not pulled forward for the cadenzas).
The range, transparency and tonal veracity of the recording offer a total vindication of SACD. This is a tremendous disc.
Serenades – No 10, ‘Gran Partita’; No 12
London Winds / Michael Collins (cl)
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Led with flair and imagination by Michael Collins, London Winds give a vital, refined performance of the Gran Partita, exceptionally transparent in texture and full of felicitous detail: the wonderfully veiled pianissimo coda of the Romanze fifth movement, for instance; or the eloquently phrased oboe cantilena against the dulcet murmurings of clarinets and basset-horns in the adagio variation.
Outer movements are crisp and athletic, with an easy, quick-witted sense of instrumental interplay; and the two minuets are sharply contrasted, the first done as a stately menuetto galante, its G minor Trio more elegiac than agitated, the second as a perky Ländler. Some may raise an eyebrow at the use of contrabassoon instead of Mozart’s prescribed double bass (contrabassoons had notoriously unreliable plumbing in the 1780s). But there are gains in overall blend, even if you might miss the double bass’s pizzicato twangs in the second minuet’s beery Trio. The only reservation comes with the Adagio third movement, the work’s emotional core, where the pulsing accompaniment impinges too prominently on the soaring exchanges of oboe, clarinet and basset-horn.
As a fill-up London Winds offer that most un-diverting of serenades, K388, in a fine performance, amply powerful and urgent but notable for its poetry and inwardness, whether in the sorrowful, syncopated variant of the second subject in the opening Allegro’s recapitulation or the Trio’s exquisite ‘mirror canon’, celestially floated here by oboes and bassoons.