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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
see also reviews by Christopher
Howell and Göran