I was constantly surprised by the music on these
discs. The majority of the pieces were written whilst Mozart was
still at Salzburg in the service of the Archbishop. Though chafing
under what he saw as an oppressive yoke, he still managed to produce
this lovely music, surprising us with the inventiveness and beauty
of his creations. And most of this music was written to be ignored.
Much the space on these discs is taken up with occasional music,
often written for outdoor performance. These pieces were designed
for performance at Court or social functions when the audience
would be busy with other matters and have only half an ear to
the music. Did the social chit-chat and back-biting occasionally
stop as the listeners heard a particularly felicitous phrase,
or did they perceive it as aural wallpaper. The music was in fact
appreciated in Salzburg and Mozart helped keep the music light-hearted
by using folk-like themes and keeping the harmonies and forms
simple. But Mozart managed to tread the fine line between simplification
and interest. In fact many of these pieces are perfectly playable
by amateur ensembles (I have played in quite a few myself), but
they retain charm and interest for the musical connoisseurs.
The pieces variously have the names Serenade,
Divertimento and Nocturne. Generally these names are interchangeable,
though Divertimento probably indicated performance by a smaller
group. And of course the famous 'Eine kleine Nacht Musik' is simply
a nocturne in translation (Mozart's own catalogue does refer to
it by its now famous name). A Serenade came with outdoor summer
connotations. Frequently consisting of a flexible number of movements,
Serenades often have a march-like introductory movement which
could be repeated at the end. Divertimentos on the other hand,
usually had the fixed sequence of four movements common to symphonies
The bulk of the pieces on the first five discs
is played by the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester, Mannheim.
They are a small band playing, having as its core a group of 14
string players playing on modern instruments but with a period-inflected
performance, vibrato is at a minimum and speeds are on the brisk
side. They give admirably clear direct performances, whilst relishing
Mozart's felicities en route. The strings have a rather lean sound
which works well in this music. The band give the music its due
but never try to inflate its importance. Whilst it would be pleasant
to have some of the more sophisticated pieces played by a larger,
more well upholstered band, I never felt short changed by these
performances and will happily return to them. The remaining performances
are shared between the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, the Amati
Chamber Orchestra, Camerata Bern and the Bavarian Radio Symphony
Orchestra, with the Mozarteum Orchestra playing the Marches on
the final disc. The first three of these ensembles all give perfectly
acceptable, rather small-scale modern instrument performances
with varying degrees of period inflection, but none quite manages
to match the vitality of the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester.
The three items played by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
are in a different league. Colin Davis directs them in large-scale,
unashamedly symphonic Mozart.
The first CD contains four Divertimentos all
played by Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester, Mannheim, directed
by Florian Heyerick. Heyerick is their new musical director, having
taken over in 2002. The violin part in the Divertimento in D major
KV 334, which was written in 1777, has a florid violin solo part
which Mozart might have written for himself. Here the sweet toned
soloist is Olga Nodel though she does sometimes sound a little
frantic in the more florid parts.
The second CD, again played by Kurpfäzisches
Kammerorchester, Mannheim, directed by Florian Heyerick, is more
of a mixed bag. It mixes the 'Notturno for four orchestras' with
the 'Musical Joke' and 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik'. The Notturno
for four orchestras in D major KV 286 was composed a year after
the Serenata Notturna. This winter serenade again uses antiphonal
effects by dividing the orchestra into 4 groups, each consisting
of 4 string parts and two horns. The surviving last movement is
a rather short Minuet, leading experts to suspect that the real
final movement has been lost. Unfortunately the musical material
is not always truly interesting, perhaps because Mozart had to
take care martialling his 4 orchestras. But with all its echo
effects, I imagine that this must have been a rather amazing piece
to have heard at the first performance.
The Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spass in
F major KV 522 "Dorfmusikanten-Sextett") and 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik'
(Serenade in G major KV 525) Both date from rather later in his
career than the majority of the music on this record, both these
works have nicknames which are taken from Mozart's own catalogue.
We do not know for what occasions the works were written, though
both were written in 1787 whilst he was writing 'Don Giovanni'.
The 'Musical Joke' is written for a string quartet and two horns.
Here Mozart is satirising the amateur composer who does not have
complete control over his material. For me I am afraid the joke
very quickly wears pretty thin. Perhaps Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester
were also less than impressed as here they have a moments of untidiness
of ensemble. But they give a clean unhackneyed performance of
'Eine kleine Nachtmusik'.
The third CD contains two Cassations (both played
by the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester under Florian Heyerick)
and another Divertimento played by the Neues Bachisches Collegium
Musicum under Burkhard Glatzner. The Cassation in G Major, K63
was written when Mozart was only thirteen. Known as 'FinalMusik'
as it was written for the celebrations marking the end of the
academic year at Salzburg's Benedictine University. It is in fact
described as a Divertimento in Köchel's catalogue. In the
Allegro second movement Heyerick's speeds get the better of the
strings and there are moments of untidiness. But this is followed
by a charmingly quirky Andante with pizzicato accompanimation.
Both this and the Cassation in B flat Major KV 99 are multi-movement
works which have a relaxed feel to them. The Divertimento in D
major KV 251 is an altogether more sophisticated work. The Neues
Bachisches Collegium Musicum are a bigger group than the Kurpfälzisches
Kammerorchester and they make a rather more well upholstered sound.
Glatzner's speeds are still on the brisk side, but they are well
judged and the orchestra respond well.
The fourth CD contains three more Divertimentos
played by the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester, this time under
Jiri Malat, their out-going musical director. The Divertimento
in E flat Major KV 113 was written for Milan in 1771. This was
the first time that Mozart used clarinets although later on he
revised the piece, adding oboes, bassoons and cor anglais and
enabling the clarinets to be omitted if necessary. The Divertimento
in D major KV 131 was another of Mozart's experiments in scoring.
It is written for strings with divided violas, flute, oboe, bassoon
and four horns. These latter feature as a solo quartet in some
movements and the original players were obviously very skilled
musicians. Here the wind players of the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester
relish the opportunities that Mozart gives them. In the introduction
to the finale the seven wind instruments play without string accompaniments.
Such works as this could act as a real experimental playground
for Mozart and later on successful experiments such as this would
be transferred to his more major works.
The fifth CD contains just two Serenades. The
first one, the Serenade in D major KV 100 was written to follow
the Cassation in G Major, KV 63. Both the Serenade and the Cassation
are quite modest and have prominent passages for wind instruments.
The main impression is of a long (the Serenade lasts 25 minutes)
leisurely entertainment. The Serenade in D major KV 204 is an
altogether different matter. It opens in a dramatic fashion and
includes a concertante violin part which is substantial enough
for the work to almost be a violin concerto. The violin is winningly
played by Olga Nodel.
The sixth CD is devoted to the Lodron Night Music,
the Divertimento in F major KV 247 and the Divertimento B flat
major KV 287. These Divertimenti were written in 1776 and 1777
for the birthday of Countess Antonia Lodron. The Countess lived
near the Mozarts and not only did Mozart play at the Lodron house,
but he taught the children of the house. He dedicated several
pieces to the family including the concerto for three pianos.
These Divertimentos are played by the Camerata Bern, directed
by Thomas Füri. Whilst the performances are perfectly acceptable,
I felt that they did not really do justice to this fascinating
music. The concertante violin part in the B flat major Divertimento
is one that we know Mozart wrote for himself to play.
The first two Serenades on the 7th
CD are played by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Colin
Davis. The Serenata Notturna in D major KV 239 was another of
Mozart's experiments in scoring. Written in 1776 for New Year
celebrations, it uses a solo quartet to produce a number of wonderful
echo effects. Interestingly the bass line in the solo quartet
uses a Double Bass rather then Violoncello and the work also includes
a timpani part. Under Colin Davis the Bavarian Radio Symphony
Orchestra give a big-boned, big band version of the work with
no period inflections and rather steady speeds. Their version
of the Posthorn Serenade is in a similar vein, giving a symphonic
interpretation of what Mozart probably regarded as a chamber work.
This is another 'Finalmusik', written in 1779 after a journey
to Mannheim and Paris. The work includes the famous 'Mannheim
crescendo' and uses a big orchestra including oboes, bassoons,
horns trumpets and timpani. In the trio of the Minuet there is
a solo part for a corno di posta, hence the work’s nickname. This
was most probably a joke, reminding students that term was over
and they would soon be travelling home. The work also includes
an Andante of unusual seriousness and intensity, given a rather
slow, romantic reading by Davis. Ideally I would have liked a
leaner sound and faster speeds, especially in the Serenata Notturna,
but faced with such shapely and sophisticated music making, it
seems churlish to complain.
The final item on this disc is a product of Mozart's
childood. The Gallimatthias Musicum KV 32 was composed in 1766,
written in the Hague to celebrate the installation of Willem V
as Stathouder of the Dutch Republic. It is probable that Leopold
Mozart had a hand in it. It is a noisy piece, a jolly medley of
18 movements all based on existing music. This is impressive work
for a child, whether or not Mozart had help from his father. It
is played here, in a rather heavy-handed manner, by the Franz
Liszt Chamber Orchestra, under Janos Rolla. The name of the piece
means musical nonsense, but unfortunately Rolla seems to lack
the lightness of touch needed.
Disc eight contains just the Haffner Serenade
in D major, KV 250, played by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
under Colin Davis. Written in 1776 when Mozart was still in his
teens, this Serenade contains another florid solo violin part.
It is an unusual work, of significant size with a number of concertante
parts. It was written for the wedding of the daughter of a well-to
do Salzburg merchant, Sigmund Haffner. The bride’s brother commissioned
the work and it was first played on a warm summer's evening in
their garden. The serenade comprises a violin concerto and two
minuets. Apart from the opening Allegro maestoso introduction
the Serenade is generally carefree and sunny with an abundance
of folk-like themes. Davis and the Bavarians give a fine interpretation
in a big boned, symphonic manner. The concertante violin part
is played stylishly by an unnamed soloist.
The ninth CD contains the final two serenades.
The Serenade in D major KV 185 is a 'Finalmusik' but is rather
more sophisticated than the Cassation in G Major KV 63. This was
written in 1773. It has a richer sound with horns and trumpets
and passages for solo violin. Played by the Franz Liszt Chamber
Orchestra under Janos Rolla, this represents a return to the smaller
scale ensemble. The opening is rather over-emphatic but it soon
settles down to a fine, if rather sedate performance. The Serenade
in D major KV 203 is another 'Finalmusik' written in 1774. It
is also know as the Colloredo Serenade in the mistaken belief
that it was written for the festivities of the name day of Archbishop
Colloredo. The Amati Chamber Orchestra give a perfectly acceptable
performance, but there were moments in the long andante (6th
movement), where Mozart reaches the artistic levels of his symphonies,
when I would have liked a more sophisticated approach.
The final CD consists solely of marches - seventeen
of them. The music comes from a variety of sources, including
three marches from 'Idomeneo' and music from 'Le Nozze di Figaro'
as well as items like the March KV 189 which was probably part
of the Serenade in D Major KV 203. I am afraid that for me, this
is a disc for completists only. The Mozarteum Orchestra is smallish
but under Hans Graf, these performances lack variety and lightness
This set runs to an impressive 10 CDs and I probably
would not recommend listening to it from beginning to end. Not
all the performances are ideal, but as something to dip into and
explore, it is highly recommendable. It may be that you have some
of these pieces already. At super budget price you can afford
to explore all of these fascinating pieces.