This is yet another enterprising attempt from Gidon
Kremer to bridge the gap between old and new, and in the process give
the listener a thoroughly stimulating experience. He did a similar thing
with his recording of Piazzola’s Four Seasons re-working;
in this case, he juxtaposes ‘real’ Mozart (father and son) with contemporary
pieces either inspired by, or written as a response to, the world of
To deal with the ‘authentic’ Mozart first, it is good
to report refreshing, vigorous readings of some very familiar music.
Kremer and his colleagues use modern instruments, with vibrato included,
but adopt a fresh, pointed rhythmic response to the phrasing, so that
everything emerges with clarity and vitality. He is not afraid to ‘century-hop’
in this music either, interjecting what he calls ‘polystylistic cadenzas
which suggest the influence of time-travelling jazz musicians with a
knowledge of Shostakovich and Berg’. This is most evident in the finale
of the Serenata Notturna, and points to his association with
Schnittke, whose wacky cadenza to the Beethoven Violin Concerto Kremer
recorded some years ago. In Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, everything
is played more or less straight, though Kremer enjoys inserting solo
lines and improvisatory embellishments here and there, giving the piece
a kinship with the concerto grosso form of Mozart’s predecessors.
Both works get a thorough ‘dusting down’ that is very welcome, and I
can’t imagine even purists complaining, as it’s all done with a conviction
and playfulness worthy of Mozart himself.
The band obviously have a riotous time in Mozart senior’s
Kinder-Symphonie (sometimes wrongly known as the Toy Symphony)
where the use of realistic or imitative devices was often sanctioned.
In this case, we have pagers and mobile phone interjections (I guarantee
you’ll be reaching for your pocket!) giving the piece the required contemporary
slant, whilst remaining completely authentic. ‘It is’ says Kremer, ‘as
if we’d invited Mozart and his father into the studio to fool around
with us’. All very enjoyable.
The contemporary items are no less revealing, and all
seem to inhabit a sort of dream world, where snippets of Mozart are
put through a 20th century ‘lens’. Alexander Raskatov’s 5
min. aus dem Leben von W.A.M (here receiving its first recording)
takes several characteristics of Mozart’s style (charm, innocence, naïveté),
and explores them in a new light, adding the odd soft tone-cluster,
mixing percussion with the strings, repeating a short cadential sequence
with various combinations of instrumental colour. It makes for a short
but thought-provoking musical memory of a past age.
Silvestrov’s The Messenger inhabits an even
more dream-like aural landscape, which is not surprising, as it was
written shortly after the death of the composer’s wife. This is a haunting
piece, originally for piano solo but reworked for strings, piano and
a synthesized background of ‘wind’, a desolate breeze that comes to
us from a great distance. The Mozart fragments then come and go, strange
chord progressions do not resolve, melodies appear and fade away. The
composer seems to be trying to reconcile past and present, beauty and
a deep sense of loss and regret, and he himself tells us ‘it is as if
a visitor from some other dimension of time had come to us with a message’.
Kremer sees it as ‘a miserere, of the kind Mozart might have composed
were he alive today’.
Schnittke’s typically provocative Moz-Art à
la Haydn has been recorded by Kremer before, with the Chamber Orchestra
of Europe. The piece was sparked by Schnittke’s fascination with a Mozart
fragment of 1783, which he took as a starting point before putting it
through what the booklet writer calls ‘the compositional equivalent
of a food processor’. The result is an inventive collage of sounds,
melodies, quotations, all piled on top of one another and blended together.
It was presented at the Berlin festival of 1988 as a ‘play with music’,
the piece accompanying a masked performance in the style of an Italian
carnival. It ends (or rather collapses) with the musicians leaving the
stage one by one, still playing, in the manner of Haydn’s Farewell
Symphony, while the conductor directs an invisible orchestra and only
the bass player remains.
The whole disc is an absorbing experience, a witty
and imaginative attempt to set Mozart ‘in the frame of our own time’,
as Kremer aptly puts it. The punningly titled Kremerata Baltica have
always enjoyed working with new music, and their expertise is obvious
in every item. It is good to hear them play the ‘straight’ stuff so
winningly too, and I would recommend their Eine Kleine to anyone
who feels they are bored with its familiarity. The recording is in the
demonstration bracket, and there are very illuminating notes from Bob
Gilmore. Another excellent and rewarding Nonesuch issue.