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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimenti for Wind Instruments

CD1
Gran Partita K361
CD2
Serenade no.11, K375b
Serenade no.12, K,388
Divertimento Kanh.226
CD3
Divertimento K213
Divertimento K240
Divertimento K252
Divertimento K253
Divertimento K270
CD4
Serenade no.11, K375a
Divertimento K166
Divertimento K186
Adagio K410
Adagio K411
Divertimento K439b No1
CD5
Divertimento K439b No2
Divertimento K439b No3
Divertimento K439b No4
Divertimento K439b No5
Chamber Orchestra of Europe Wind Soloists
Recorded in various locations between December 1989 and September 1990
TELDEC 2564 60866-2 [5CDs: 49:21+70:28+57:00+68:37+69:12]

 

It is great to have the larger part of Mozart’s unparalleled output for wind instruments brought together in one set like this. Of course, a lot of this is what is often referred to as ‘banqueting music’, but, being Mozart, it is all worth listening to with one’s full attention. In any case, it is my feeling, from reading contemporary accounts, that although this Harmonie music (‘Harmonie’ being the German word for a wind ensemble) was used at social functions, in Mozart’s Vienna, such pieces would have been listened to attentively by a highly discerning clientele.

Certainly the quality of the composer’s invention never flags, even in the most lightweight of these compositions. In addition, there are at least three genuine masterpieces here, these being the three serenades K.361, 375 and 388. The first of these is the ‘Gran Partita’, which, as Mozart’s largest instrumental work, occupies the whole of CD1. The piece is known commonly as the ‘Serenade for 13 Wind’, though it’s usually, as here, performed by twelve wind and a double bass. It consists of seven delectable movements, full of those rich, crunchy textures that characterise the best wind music. Many listeners will have heard the Adagio in the play/film ‘Amadeus’, where Salieri is driven to insane jealousy by its effortless yet jaw-dropping loveliness.

Moving to CD2, K.375 in Eb and K388 in C minor are octets for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, and are in a sense more symphonic than the ‘Gran Partita’, particularly the solemn C minor with its four terse movements. (K.375 appears on CD4, interestingly, in its alternative version for sextet, with oboes omitted). The six Divertimenti for sextet (this time it’s the clarinets that are absent) are spread over CDs 2 and 3, and are earlier, smaller scale and much lighter than the Serenades. But they never fail to delight, and contain constant surprises for the alert listener.

CD4 begins with two works featuring the unusual combination of pairs of oboes, cors anglais, clarinets, horns and bassoons – giving a ‘dectet’ of great richness. These are followed by a sequence of works without oboes, several featuring the basset horn – essentially an alto clarinet, of which Mozart was very fond. The two Adagios K410 and 411 are followed by the five Divertimenti for 3 bassets, flowing from the end of CD4 into CD5.

What of the playing? The Chamber Orchestra of Europe Wind Soloists (many of them British) are of course outstanding performers and musicians, so everything is meticulously prepared and executed. The quality of ensemble playing is immaculate, and there is a welcome desire to project the music vividly, underlining its gregarious, entertaining attributes.

The playing of principal oboe Douglas Boyd is probably the chief glory of these recordings. He phrases so beautifully, and produces that wonderful English oboe sound, reedy yet sweet, bright and incisive yet flexible and expressive. He has the musical personality to determine the style, and lead the ensemble through these often quite complex structures without the benefit (?) of a conductor. His playing in the slow movements of K361 and K375 is very special, and he sparkles in the quick movements too. The other players respond in kind, but the downside is that the pieces without oboes seem dull by comparison. Richard Hosford and Nicholas Rodwell, the two clarinets who play throughout, are fine players, but their sounds do lack a certain brilliance, and continental listeners, used to something reedier and brighter, will, I think, be somewhat disappointed.

The recordings are mostly of the highest possible quality. It isn’t easy recording wind instruments, for the sound emerges from all sorts of unlikely holes and corners. The engineers have done a terrific job, with the exception of the aforementioned oboe-less version of K375, where the perspective suddenly seems to have changed, with the players further back and the sound less immediate.

That aside, this is an issue that all serious wind players, as well as lovers of Mozart, will want to own. I found myself again and again gasping and chuckling with pleasure at the sheer ingenuity and charm of this significant but too easily overlooked part of Mozart’s output.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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