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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Serenade in G major, K 525 (1787) [18:18]
Serenata Notturna, K 239 (1776) [13:04]
Divertimento in F major, K 247, Lodron Night Music No. 1 (1776) [36:21]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
rec. 4-7 June 2004, Concert Hall, Örebro, Sweden.
NAXOS 8.557023 [67:43]

The earliest work in this collection of Mozart serenades and divertimenti for chamber orchestra, the so-called ‘Serenata Notturna’, was completed in January 1776. in it, the orchestra is divided into two groups, one made up two violins, a viola and a double bass, the other of ripieno strings, with timpani. The opening tutti, strongly emphasised on the timpani, is immediately followed by a graceful theme stated by the smaller group of strings;this opening movement, essentially a march, exploits the dialogue between the two groups, in a way at times strongly reminiscent of the concerto grosso of the preceding era. In the central minuet which follows, the larger body of strings frames a passage for the quartet, and in the closing rondo the opening allegretto is surpsingly interrupted by an expressive adagio for the smaller group of strings, an adagio which is relatively dark in tone, before – another surpise – a march leads us back to the original allegretto theme. This is ‘light’ music of remarkable sophistication.
Written only a few months later, in June 1776, the Divertimento in F major is in six movements. It was the first of two pieces written for the name day of Countess Lodron – a Divertimento in B flat, K 287 was written a year later. Maria Antonia, Countess of Lodron, was an admirer of Mozart’s abilities. It was for her, and for her two elder daughters, Antoinetta and Giuseppina, that Mozart wrote his concerto for Three Pianos, K 242, also in 1776. The Divertimento in F major is scored for two horns and strings. It is the lengthiest piece included on this disc and, though it is not one of Mozart’s most important contributions to the genre, it is never in danger of outstaying its welcome.
The most famous work here, K 525, was written some ten or eleven years after its two companions. It was written, indeed, at much the same time that Mozart was preparing Don Giovanni for performance in Prague. In his recent Faber Pocket Guide to Mozart, Nicholas Kenyon observes that “its virtues are  utter simplicity, memorability and perfect balance. Its initial fanfares and melody, really no different from those in so many other Mozartian openings, indelibly remain in the mind”. That puts it very well. Well-played, its four movements have a marvellous feeling of spontaneity, constantly engaging in its wit and grace, but with an underlying robustness.
Petetr Sundkvist and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra approach all of this music, I think, with a little too much self-awareness. They don’t seem able to find a balance between professional care, on the one hand, and the appearance – or carefully contrived illusion – of ease and relaxation on the other. There is too much that is mannered, over-pointed, for these to be performances that can compete with the best on record – with, say, performances of Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Concentus Musicus Wien, under Nikolas Harnoncourt, on Teldec, or by The English Concert directed by Andrew Manze (Harmonia Mundi).
So, decent, professional, but uninspired performances of some fine light music, performances in which the performers are perhaps trying just a bit too hard.  art which In the sixteenth century, Baldassare Castiglione, writing The Book of the Courtier (1528), sought to define the kind of ‘grace’ to which a courtier ought to aspire. He saw it as a manner of performance: “It is an art which does not seem to be an art. One must avoid affectation and practice in all things a certain sprezzatura, disdain or carelessness, so as to conceal art, and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it ... obvious effort is the antithesis of grace.” Much the same held true in the courts of eighteenth-century Salzburg, and it is precisely this quality of sprezzatura that Sundkvist and the SCO don’t quite capture here.

Glyn Pursglove

see also reviews by Christopher Howell and Göran Forsling


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