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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Oboe Quartet in F, K. 370 [16:00]
Adagio in C, K. 580a, for English horn, two violins and cello [6:20]
Oboe Quintet in c minor K 406a [24:00]
Adagio and Rondo for glass armonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello, K 617 [12:54]
Joris van den Hauwe, oboe and English horn, Dennis James, Glass armonica, Marc Grauwels, flute, The Salzburg Soloists, Luz Leskowitz, leader
Rec. Utrecht, The Netherlands and Schloss Elman, Germany, 1991, 1996. DDD
NAXOS 8.555913 [59:14]


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Mozart is sometimes berated as being the ear candy of conservative classical radio stations. However one need only listen to this splendid music to appreciate the genius of the man anew. These are works of uncommon beauty and elegance, and yet they also contain an enormous emotional range. There is a soulfulness about them that is of uncommon appeal.

Mozart composed his oboe quartet K. 370 for the young Mannheim oboist Friedrich Ramm who was appointed to the court orchestra there when a mere fourteen years old. The delicacy and fluidity of Ramm’s playing is what led the composer to in effect write a chamber concerto for the youthful virtuoso. Sewn throughout with sunny singable melodies, it is a work of buoyant optimism and charm. This is a tight and spirited performance with some amazingly fleet passagework by oboist Joris van den Hauwe. The performance is marred slightly by some questionable intonation from the strings, but on the whole, it is a rendition that has more delights than detriments.

The unfinished C major Adagio is performed here in what is only an estimation of the composer’s original instrumentation intentions. Only twenty-eight bars of the lower parts were completed. Mozart did not indicate specific instruments other than the English horn part, which he completed. This is a sweetly solemn, church-like work that hints melodically of the famous motet Ave verum corpus. It is played here with a rich burnished tone from the English horn, and the editorial decision to use violins and cello as the underlying ensemble works quite well.

The quintet in C minor, K 406a is a reworking of a reworking. Originally a wind serenade (K. 388), Mozart arranged the piece for string quintet, a genre made popular by Michael Haydn, to fill out a set of three such works that included the quintets K. 515-516. Here the present ensemble has given the first violin part over to the oboe, with some rather vague claim in the program notes that the choice is justified by the oboe’s tone being closest to that of the human voice. (Whatever that may mean?!) It is nonetheless a convincing and pleasant combination of instruments, and on the whole well executed, although the string intonation problems creep in again at some rather inopportune moments.

Late in his life, Mozart came to know the Glass armonica (sic), an instrument developed by Benjamin Franklin, played by moistened fingers upon tuned bowls of glass. Given the instrument’s limited dynamic range, Mozart kept the work relatively brief, but still managed to craft some splendid music. For what is ostensibly a novelty work, the Adagio and Rondo is surprisingly dramatic, and Mozart very cleverly adapts to the limitations of the instrument by using it more in dialogue with the ensemble rather than as an equal partner. This is a lovely performance indeed, and Dennis James is quite able to make his instrument sing with great expression.

All in all, this is a pleasant disc of somewhat unusual chamber music, and is a worthwhile addition to one’s collection. I found that the oboe was brought a bit too far to the fore, giving it more of a soloistic quality than perhaps that called for by the composer, but this is a minor complaint. Program notes are a bit rambling and are not particularly enlightening. Recommended with a couple of minor caveats.

Kevin Sutton

 



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