recordings” says the CD cover, adding “for mandolin and guitar”.
These are no newly found works by the Salzburg master. That
would have been sensational! Instead these are arrangements
for this somewhat unusual combination of instruments. The music
itself is well-known, some of it more suitable to the instruments
than others. However the whole programme is highly entertaining
and one of the more unusual tributes to the “birthday child”.
Would Mozart ever have contemplated the mandolin? Yes, he would.
In fact he did use it, famously in the Don’s serenade in the
second act of Don Giovanni. For this amorous and alluring
music it fits like a glove and also works surprisingly well
in the music on this disc. One must of course be willing to
rethink the traditional approach. As a matter of fact much of
the music needs very little rethinking since it was conceived
for keyboard and the keyboard of Mozart’s time was not a modern
concert grand but a forte piano. The sound of that instrument
was much more brittle and thin, closer to the mandolin, which
normally is allotted the melody. The deeper and rounder sounds
of the guitar fill out the bass.
By a coincidence
I organized a Mozart concert the night before I listened to
this disc. Several of the pieces here also appeared on my programme,
albeit in the original versions – well, more or less. The Rondo
alla Turca was played there, faster to be true, but the
mandolin version doesn’t really come second best. Quite recently
I also listened to Wanda Landowska playing the same rondo on
her magnificent harpsichord (see review).
That version stressed the janissary element of the music while
never being as elegant as the piano or the mandolin. The A major
sonata (tracks 3 – 11) is delicious, as is the C major sonata
(tracks 13 – 15), not least the almost nonchalant first movement.
The Variations on “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” start
a little prosaic with a plodding presentation of the theme but
catch fire in the variations, although tempos are generally
much slower than most piano versions I have heard. Johan Westre
played it at a rollicking speed at my concert. They also leave
out the last three variations, which is a pity, but variation
No. 9 is a perfectly valid finale on its own, so why complain?
In the other music
on the disc we are further away from the originals but it is
still skilfully done. The Allegro movement from Eine kleine
Nachtmusik is nicely varied in sound. Moreover, as the liner
notes say, “not a single note of the original quartet version
had to be left out”. Laudate dominum is beautifully played
– and a beautiful melody, of course – but after some time one
longs to hear the female voice, especially since I heard it
sung most lovingly by mezzo-soprano Susann Végh the evening
before. She also performed Voi che sapete from Le
nozze di Figaro. The mandolin version is undoubtedly affecting,
slower than usual but all the more expressive for that. They
also play The Queen of the Night’s frighteningly difficult aria
Der Hölle Rache with formidable drive and not a sign
of technical problems. In the Adagio K 356 they manage
to conjure up an eerie sound, at least vaguely reminiscent of
the glass harmonica.
As the finale to
the whole disc, Laudate dominum is reprised, but this
time in the version for mandolin orchestra, and since no other
players are credited in the commentaries, I suppose this is
Detlef Tewes playing all the parts. It is a full and romantic
sound and a nice end to a recital somewhat out of the ordinary
rut. The originals are, as so often, to be preferred, but the
idea is so bold and the outcome so delicious that I urge readers
to give it a try. The full 72 minutes in one sitting is probably
not the optimal way of enjoying the disc, but played in smaller
doses it is a charming and distinctive homage to Wolfgang Amadée.