Mozart: Orchestral Works

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

Mozart: Orchestral Works

  • Symphony No. 40
  • Serenade No. 13, "Eine kleine Nachtmusik"
  • Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra

In spite of the presence of so formidable a work as the G minor Symphony, the chief interest of this disc resides first in the Clarinet Concerto and second in the Nachtmusik. To start with the latter: there is reason to think that it may originally have had five movements, rather than simply the four we know, with (in the serenade tradition) an additional minuet preceding the slow movement. Alfred Einstein conjectured that the minuet of an apocryphal piano sonata might be a version of the 'lost' movement, and here it is offered, scored for strings, in its suggested original context. The piece is by no means inapt in style for insertion (or restoration) here, and the possibility of its being Mozart's cannot be ruled out, although its invention lacks the strength of character that distinguishes the rest of the Nachtmusik. The performance, using a full band rather than the solo group Mozart is generally thought to have wanted, is on the whole pleasantly relaxed and sweet-toned, though some of the details of dynamic shaping seem to me misguided, as does the use of solo strings for the trio of the minuet (the usual minuet, not the new one: had Mozart wanted a contrast he could have asked for it). A reluctance to observe the natural caesuras in the music tends to make for a slightly breathless effect.
The concerto is performed on a basset clarinet, and very sensitively shaped by Colin Lawson—there is supple, tender phrasing in the first movement, some happy and expressive details of timing in the Adagio, and in general a poised air not otherwise present on the disc. Lawson's tone has an appealing softness and gentleness, and a lovely warm, baritonal bottom register. Tempos are restrained; one feels that the musicians are keenly aware—as Mozart was not when he wrote it—that this was to be his last instrumental composition and that its autumnal nature needs to be stressed. There is a good deal of ornamentation, which is usually quite appropriate (the slow movement cadenza is possibly rather romantic); I would personally have wished for less, in a recording, where a little flight of fancy might not sound so fanciful or certainly so spontaneous on repeated listenings. Here and there the performance is not quite as perfect in detail, usually in some point of ensemble, as one expects in a recording these days. It is hard to choose between this performance and Anthony Pay's (L'Oiseau-Lyre); Pay's clarinet tone is closer to the modern ideal and his reading is perhaps more vital and direct in manner.
As to the symphony, I find the performance somewhat unpleasing, with a number of little 'refinements' that seem quite the opposite in effect. Listen to the crescendo in the last bar of the first tutti, for example, which surely coarsens the idea; or to the echo effects in the main second- group theme of the Andante, which Mozart would have asked for if he had wanted them, and which to my mind trivialize the theme. This whole movement seems to me rather dry and brusque in effect, as indeed is the minuet, which again is decidedly breathless (and the horns are not quite perfect in the trio). The finale, although some of the wind detail is well brought out (this applies throughout, in fact), seems oddly underplayed for what is probably the most alarming utterance in all Mozart's instrumental music; the tempo is quite moderate, in marked contrast to the hasty-sounding first movement. This strikes me, in sum, as a reading that diminishes the work. The versions noted above both seem preferable; Hogwood's (L'Oiseau-Lyre) for a direct and unaffected performance, Bruggen's (Philips) for a more consciously polished and shapely one.
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