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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Three Serenades
CD 1
Serenade No. 10 for 13 instruments in B flat major, K361 'Gran Partita' (1781-84) [51:52]
Concert Rondo for French horn and orchestra in E flat, K371 (1781) [04:44]
CD 2
Serenade No. 11 for winds in E flat major, K375 (1781) [23:20]
Serenade No. 12 for winds in C minor, K388 (c. 1782/83) [23:71]
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and orchestra, K297b (1778)* [28:24]
Douglas Boyd (oboe)*
Richard Hosford (clarinet)*
Robin O’Neill (bassoon)*
Jonathan Williams (French horn)*
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Alexander Schneider
rec. no details provided.
COE RECORDS CD COS 242 [56:50 + 75:29]


On their own record label the enterprising Chamber Orchestra of Europe have issued a series of recordings as part of their 25th anniversary edition. This double set compiled from their back catalogue consists of five of Mozart’s works that feature wind instruments: the three Wind Serenades: K361; K375 and K388; the Concert Rondo, K371 and the Sinfonia Concertante K297b. This recording does not include any information on the recording dates or venues. I assume that all the performances are studio recordings, with the exception of K297b, which is clearly a live recording.    

Conceived at the Salzburg Festival in 1980 when performing under the baton of Herbert von Karajan, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (COE) was founded less than a year later. The COE has a membership of fifty musicians selected from fifteen countries who perform together mainly in continental Europe where important links have grown with the cities of Berlin, Frankfurt, Graz, Cologne and Paris. They have recorded over two hundred works and have been awarded numerous international prizes including three Gramophone ‘Record of the Year’ awards.

The superb seven movement Serenade No. 10 also known as the 'Gran Partita', was Mozart’s largest composition for wind ensemble. Often referred to as the Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, this is not strictly correct, as it is scored for 13 instruments but generally not all are wind. Mozart specifies twelve wind instruments: four horns, pairs of basset-horns, oboes, clarinets and bassoons with the addition of a double-bass. In line with Mozart’s original intentions the double-bass is employed on this recording although sometimes a contrabassoon is used. Studies have placed a likely date of composition around 1782 and it is likely that the score was intended for a specific outside event.

The K361 is given a decent performance, however, they are up against intense competition and do not share the same delight as those offered by at least two excellent versions. Compared to the versions from the English Chamber Orchestra under Barenboim on HMV and the Amadeus Winds under Hogwood on Decca I found this interpretation generally lacking in vitality and attack in the brisk movements and in need of additional sensitivity in the slower passages. The opening movement Largo, Molto allegro just doesn’t have that distinctive dancing quality and in the fourth movement Menuetto, Allegretto that crucial bite is absent, especially in the recurring subject at points 0:20-0:26; 0:50-0:56; 2:55-3:01 etc. In the fifth movement Romanze, Adagio the players cannot match that special degree of tenderness that the ECO under Barenboim provide. I detected a vast improvement in the closing movement Rondo which is given a swift and vivacious reading. The recording adds a sharp edge to the wind timbre that overall makes the sound acceptable rather than pleasing.

My reference version of K361 is superbly performed with controlled feeling and disciplined vitality by the English Chamber Orchestra under the expert direction of Daniel Barenboim. This agreeable and richly recorded performance was produced in the Kingsway Hall, London in 1976, and can be heard on HMV Classics 5 74365 2. Those wanting an account performed on original instruments are in for a treat as there is a most impressive recording from the Amadeus Winds under Christopher Hogwood, from 1985 in New York, on Double Decca 458 096-2.     

From 1781 the single movement Concert Rondo for French horn and orchestra was most probably envisaged as a finale from a Horn Concerto that was lost or unfinished. The score is described in the booklet notes by Nöel Goodwin as “… a typical showpiece concerto finale in a modified sonata-rondo form, with catchy themes treated in a virtuosic manner and cadenza near the end.”   

In the Concert Rondo the horn player Jonathan Williams proves himself to be an excellent soloist and makes light work of the virtuosic requirements of Mozart’s score. Williams has the advantage of sympathetic accompaniment from the COE under Alexander Schneider. I do not have an alternative account of the Concert Rondo in my collection that I know well enough to recommend. However, the recording I have encountered most often at Recorded Music Societies and on radio broadcasts is from the English Chamber Orchestra under Barry Tuckwell, on Decca Ovation 458 607-2.

The prolific Mozart left a tremendous legacy of over forty Serenades, Cassations and Divertimenti. There probably would have been more as some are thought to have gone missing over the years. Cast in five movements the E flat major Serenade, K375 is performed here in the version for eight wind instruments: pairs of clarinets, French horns, bassoons and oboes.

This resourceful and lyrical work is exceptionally well performed here and brightly recorded. I was generally satisfied with their interpretation of the lengthy opening Allegro maestoso and more impressed with the third movement Adagio which is given a beautiful reading with a pace that ensures that sentimentality does not set in. The second and fourth movement Menuettos are played with a satisfactory degree of lightness and delicacy, and the final movement Allegro is fresh, bracing and lively.

My primary recommendation for K375 is performed on original instruments by the Amadeus Winds under Christopher Hogwood, from 1985 in New York, on Double Decca 458 096-2.    

Little is known about the attractive K388 that was thought to have been written around 1782/83 and is a wind octet for pairs of clarinets, French horns, bassoons and oboes. Cast in four movements the C minor score is unusually sombre for Mozart.

Despite fine playing from the wind soloists of the COE the extended opening Allegro and the third movement Menuetto in canone, are slightly lacking in vitality and the second movement Andante seems rather ponderous by comparison to Hogwood and his Amadeus Winds. Thankfully fortunes improve with a lively and characterful performance of the closing movement Allegro. The clear recording quality tends to be over-bright in the forte passages.

In K388 my reference account is performed once again on original instruments by the Amadeus Winds under Christopher Hogwood, from 1985 in New York, on Decca.     

The Sinfonia Concertante K. 297b may have been written in Paris in 1778, although it has an uncertain origin. The three movement score survives in an unauthenticated copy probably made around 1867-69 and is scored for four wind soloists: oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon. It is possible that the E flat major score was not written by Mozart at all. Any doubts seem unjustified going by the obvious excellence of the music.

In the E flat major Sinfonia Concertante the four soloists provide fine and athletic performances with excellent support from the COE. I enjoyed the robust and purposeful playing in the extended opening movement Allegro and the Adagio is affectionately done. The interpretation of the closing movement Andantino con variazioni, although buoyant, would have benefited from a more spontaneous approach.

In the Sinfonia Concertante I remain loyal to the evergreen 1957 Philadelphia recording from soloists: John de Lancie, oboe; Anthony Gigliotti, clarinet; Bernard Garfield, bassoon and Mason Jones on French horn with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy on Sony Classical SBK67177.

This is an interesting compilation from the own label of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Although concise the annotation from Nöel Goodwin and Lionel Salter is of a high standard. The performances, if somewhat uneven in quality, are generally gratifying and the inconsistent if acceptable sonics can be over-bright. Unless one requires exactly the same programme as provided here the excellence of the strongest rival versions makes this set difficult to recommend.

Michael Cookson






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