> Mozart - Serenade No. 4 & 5 [PJL]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No 4 in D major, K203 (1774) [37.20]
Vier Kontratänze, K101 (1776) [5.24]
Serenade No 5 in D major, K204 (1775) [35.15]
Tero Latvala (violin)
Tapiola Sinfonietta, cond. Jean-Jacques Kantorow
recorded September 1999 (K203/204) and April 2000 (K101) at the Tapiola Concert Hall, Finland DDD
BIS-CD-1100 [79.13]


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A disc of pieces called ‘Serenade’, especially ones with low Köchel numbers, sounds unlikely to offer a stimulating listening experience. But if that’s what you’re thinking, stop it, and read on…

These pieces are indeed ‘easy listening’ – they were intended to be, remember. They’re full of charming ideas, delightful effects, and naughty surprises which make you smile. True, they’ve got their fair share of clichés, routine links and obvious phrase destinations. But over and over again this music also keeps you guessing, and makes you sit up and take notice: don’t under-estimate it!

K203 has eight movements, while K204 has seven: lots of tunes for your money! Both pieces feature a solo violinist in movements II, III and IV, who, though he appears to be sitting in the orchestra in this recording, enjoys a concerto-like role, complete with virtuosic cadenzas. Of course these pieces pre-date the five Violin Concertos proper by a matter of months only. The other movements are notable for their concertante winds, providing a wealth of unexpected melodic detail and colour interest.

Most of the disc might appear to be in D major, or in closely-related keys: certainly, that would be the convention, especially with horns and trumpets in the orchestra, as here. But, in K203 at least, Mozart’s tonal scheme ranges wide. Towards the end of the first movement, precisely where you might expect Mozart to do the traditional thing – stick around in the tonic key – the music ‘disappears’ into F sharp minor, only to be grabbed back on to terra firma with (shock, horror…) a brand new theme in G major. And, most unusually, the three ‘Violin Concerto’ movements of the same Serenade hover around the relatively distant key of B flat major, thereby creating a significant and welcome variation in instrumental and harmonic colour.

Textures aren’t always what you might expect either! Movement VI of K203 – an Andante – consists of a lovely slow-moving 1st violin tune, with harmonic support in the form of a singing viola countermelody, a simple plodding bass, and – most unusually – an eccentric 2nd violin line made up of buzzing (trilling) semiquavers: the effect is quite beguiling!

There are adventures in musical structure too! The concluding movement of K204 – marked Andante (grazioso) - Allegro – is an extraordinary ‘two-movements-for-the-price-of-one’ structure! A lyrical Andante movement is overlaid with a dashing triple-time Allegro, the former variously giving way to the latter and vice versa, mainly at the structural seams – between exposition and development, and between development and recapitulation. The nearest thing I’ve encountered in Mozart (early or late Mozart) is the stop-start structure of the Rondo of the Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat, K271: such cheeky musical humour is worthy of Haydn!

The Tapiola Sinfonietta was formed in 1988 and, right from the outset, aimed to distance itself in terms of repertoire and sonority from other Finnish municipal orchestras. They certainly appear to have Mozart in their blood. Jean-Jacques Kantorow (their artistic director) has them playing like aristocrats: everything is meticulously shaped and balanced, with a thousand dynamic shadings in evidence. The winds are truly excellent, and the fine-sounding horn players control their high-lying parts (in the G major and A major movements) impressively.

Tero Latvala (their ‘first leader’) obviously enjoys himself: and the fact that he does so enables us to do likewise! His cadenzas (which are tasteful but adventurous) were written for him by the conductor, himself an experienced Mozart violinist.

This beautifully-recorded disc is a treasure. Go serenade yourself…

Peter J Lawson


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