> Mozart Wind Serenades Naxos 8555943 [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Wind Serenades

Divertimento in B flat major, K.196f [c.1775]
Divertimento in E flat major, K.252 [1775-7]
Divertimento in F major, K.253 [1775-7]
Serenade in C minor, K.338 [1782]
Oslo Philharmonic Wind Soloists
Recorded at Lommedalen Church, Baerun, Norway, June 19-20, 1997
NAXOS 8.555943 [58.27]


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This beautifully recorded Naxos disc neatly shows us the two sides of the classical wind serenade ‘coin’. Our understanding of this genre comes almost exclusively from the works of Mozart, and whilst he was not the only composer of these popular works (his father, Leopold, and Michael Haydn were both known to have contributed to the form) his are by some way the finest examples of their kind. The present collection gives us three early ‘entertainments’, short, lighter pieces that contrast well with the magnificent large-scale C minor Serenade, as fine a work as Mozart ever conceived.

The standard of playing here is extremely high, and the shorter works are treated to performances of great intensity and colour. The result is that they emerge as far more important pieces than their titles suggest. Most of these earlier serenades and divertimenti were written for affluent local patrons, often to be played outdoors to large, popular audiences. As is typical of Mozart, he invests them with a great deal of variety and colour, often overcoming the limitations of the scoring combination and band size. A good example of this is the first movement of the F major, K.253, which is one of only three Mozart works to open with a theme and variations. The fluid, independent part writing is very effective, and his treatment of the slender material masterly. The players here clearly revel in this mastery, which foreshadows much of the important wind writing in the great concertos and symphonies to come.

Delightful as the shorter pieces are, there is little to prepare us for what the liner note rightly calls "the intensity, intellectual power and grave beauty" of K.388. This work has traditionally been dated to July 1782, though the occasion for which it was written remain unknown. That Mozart thought highly of the piece is obvious from his later arrangement for string quintet. In wind band form it is a major Mozart composition, and there are at least a dozen very fine recordings of it in the catalogue, usually coupled with the other great serenades, K.361 and K.375. I doubt if any of them are any finer than this excellent Oslo performance. It has a warmth and dark beauty that is very satisfying. The very opening, with its rising C minor arpeggio, is a good example of the group’s tonal splendour and firm but flexible phrasing. The wonderful Andante is played with unaffected charm, and the superb canonic counterpoint of the Menuetto is marvellously balanced, with accents clear but not exaggerated. The inventive finale, another Theme and Variations, has passion, grace and fire in equal measure. Try the famous Don Giovanni fifth variation, where the limpid clarinet playing is particularly impressive.

As may be deduced from their name, these players are all principals with the now famous Oslo Philharmonic, and started life as a wind octet, expanding as demand grew. On the strength of this showing, they can happily live with the world’s best in terms of intonation, tonal blend and individuality of timbre and phrasing. The recording strikes me as virtually ideal, and I certainly look forward to future releases from this group.
Tony Haywood

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