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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Operatic Overtures:
Die Zauberflöte (1791) K620 [8:09] *
Le Nozze di Figaro (1786) K492 [4:11] *
Idomeneo, Rè di Creta (1781) K366 [4:46] *
Don Giovanni (1787) K527 [6:31] *
La Clemenza di Tito (1791) K621 [4:48] *
Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782) K384 [5:42] *
Der Schauspieldirektor (1786) K486 [3:55] *
Così fan tutte (1790) K588 [4:39] *
Three German Dances (1791) K605 [6:09] **
Leopold MOZART (1719-1787)
Cassation in G, ‘Toy Symphony’ [10:29] **
Orchestra of St. John’s/John Lubbock
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, published 1982 *; St. John’s Smith Square, London, published 1979 ** ADD


Here is an anthology of non-symphonic music by Mozart (plus the ‘Toy Symphony’ now attributed to Mozart père), which makes for an hour’s enjoyable listening.

While it would be fair to say that there is nothing especially revelatory about these performances, what we do get is highly competent, intelligent musicianship, fully engaged with the music. The orchestral textures are not too heavy or thick and the recording quality is pretty good.

The overtures are played with an apt – but not exaggerated – sense of theatricality. The adagio opening of the overture to Die Zauberflöte demands the listener’s attention very effectively while simultaneously creating a sense of mystery, and the ensuing fugato is both elegant and exhilarating. Tempos are particularly well judged here. The same is true of the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, creating the illusion of barely controlled haste, of hectic business. The very opening might perhaps have been quieter? The D major overture to Idomeneo is played with an appropriately scaled sense of grandeur, the opening seascape convincingly painted and an air of regal dignity is given to much of what follows. In the overture to Don Giovanni Lubbock and his orchestra do something like justice to the complex and contradictory emotions present, in anticipation of the opera itself. As the closing bars move us into the F major of the opening scene it is frustrating not to find oneself in Donna Anna’s garden! The military tones of the overture to La Clemenza di Tito are altogether less complex in their implications – perhaps they might have been given just a little more punch in places? The cymbals, drums and triangle do their work well in the overture to Die Entführung and the results are delightfully, uncomplicatedly happy. The fine presto overture to Der Schauspieldirektor captures the spirit of festivity and play, of fun and formality alike, in delightful fashion, though not without its moments of pathos (as if momentarily seeing the hollowness behind the festive mask) and it gets a good performance here. The overture to Così is an appropriately witty piece; as William Mann observed, its patterns of “alternation and not-quite-repetition are appropriate to an opera about couples”. Again, Lubbock and the Orchestra of St. John’s show themselves to be fine, unmannered Mozarteans and, once more, one’s only disappointment is that they build up such a sense of anticipation that one is thoroughly disappointed when there is no opera to follow!

The Three German Dances which make up K605, composed in the last year of Mozart’s life, are amongst the most charming of Mozart’s many contributions to the genre; the last of the three, "Die Schlittenfahrt", has become particularly famous, with its use of posthorns and tuned sleighbells in the depiction of a sleigh-born aristocratic procession. It and its partners get a thoroughly infectious performance here.

The programme closes with the ‘Toy Symphony’, long attributed to Joseph Haydn. In fact, as has now been established, the music (without the toy instruments) is by Leopold Mozart (three of the movements from his Cassation in G). Haydn, or perhaps his brother Michael, may have added the contributions by the rattle, toy drum, cuckoo, quail etc. The booklet notes by Gerald Norris contain an anecdote too good not to repeat, concerning a charity performance in London, towards the end of the nineteenth century: “Sir Charles Hallé made the journey from Manchester to play the nightingale, at which he was singularly adept. The cuckoo was entrusted to Sir Arthur Sullivan. Hallé acquitted himself masterfully, but Sullivan, for some unaccountable reason, repeatedly played his two notes the wrong way round. By the end of the performance, there was hardly a dry eye in the house, and some of the most helpless laughter came from the depths of the Royal Box”. There are no reversed cuckoos here, and though hardly likely to reduce you to helpless laughter, this performance will surely make you smile.

So, sympathetic and well-judged modern instrument performances that should disappoint no one. There are plenty of other compilations of Mozart overtures and this collection won’t do anything to displace the best of them. But it is well worth having on one’s shelves.

Glyn Pursglove


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