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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Chamber Music for Winds
CD 1
Serenade No.10 in B flat, K361, Gran Partita (1781 or 1782)* [47:09]
Serenade No.11 in E flat, K375 (1781-2)** [24:29]
CD 2
Serenade No.12 in c minor, K388 (1781-2)** [23:13]
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 (1789)^ [22:49]
Horn Quintet in E flat, K407 (1782)^^ [17:16]
CD 3
Die Entführung aus dem Serail – Harmoniemusik*** [60:34]
^^Bruno Schneider (horn); ^Sabine Meyer (clarinet); ^/^^Wiener Streichsextett; */**/***Bläserensemble Sabine Meyer (Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble)
rec. *12-15 July 1991, Pfarrkirche Pleis, Vella, Switzerland; **11-13 November, 1996, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London; ^/^^30 April-3 May 1988, Historische Reitstadt Neumarkt (Oberpfalz), Germany; ***22-24 February 1990, St Nikolaikirche, Hannover, Germany.  DDD.
EMI CLASSICS TRIPLE 2153052 [3CDs: 71:46 + 73:38 + 60:34]


Experience Classicsonline

The first CD opens with Mozart’s major work in this genre, the Serenade No.10, the so-called Gran Partita for 13 wind instruments, still frequently offered on its own, taking up a whole CD, as on the otherwise recommendable account by Albion Winds on Hyperion’s budget label - a mere 48 minutes (CDH55093).  Full marks, therefore, to EMI for fitting Serenade No.11 onto the same disc.

Value for money is to little avail, however, if the performances fail to come up to the mark. In fact the Sabine Meyer Ensemble certainly offer sensitive and very creditable performances of both works.  I’m not sure that they quite efface memories of the classic 1960s Decca performances of the Wind Serenades and Divertimenti with the London Wind Soloists directed by Jack Brymer, but they come pretty close and I’d put their versions of these two Serenades near to the top of the list.  The music benefits from Meyer’s tempi – rather brisker throughout than those of the London Philharmonic Wind Ensemble on a 1985 EMI recording once available on Classics for Pleasure and (mostly) slightly brisker than those on the Hyperion recording to which I have referred. 

Serenades, even Mozart’s, can sound rather same-y in the wrong hands – not that there isn’t variety in the music, but performers don’t always look hard enough for it, especially in well-known works such as Eine kleine Nachtmusik which, therefore, come over as the musical equivalents of Meissen figurines.  There is certainly plenty of contrast in Serenade No.10 and the Meyer Ensemble bring it out very well, responding to the delicacy, the tenderness and the strength in this music in equal measure.

The same is true of the account of Serenade No.11, first performed in 1781 by ‘six gentlemen who [are] poor devils but play (literally ‘blow’) quite nicely together.’  (Die 6 Herrn die solche exequirn sind arme schlucker, die aber ganz Hüpsch zusammen blasen).  Sabine Meyer and her Ensemble certainly go some way beyond merely playing ‘quite nicely together’.  It’s a less ambitious piece, but it may well be that many listeners will find this more immediately attractive than its predecessor – less ambitious certainly doesn’t mean less talented or less enjoyable in Mozart’s case.  The adagio (track 17) is particularly sublime and, like all the music on this first disc, receives a performance to match.  No Meissen figurines here, then. 

To do much better in these two serenades, you’d need to turn to EMI’s own premium-price recording by the Berlin Wind Soloists (3434242), a single CD which would cost you more than this 3-CD set. 

CD2 is equally well filled, completing the set of serenades and adding the Clarinet Quintet and Horn Quintet.  Like the two earlier serenades, K388 receives a recommendable performance.  The version of the Clarinet Quintet which follows is also recommendable, if just a little too smooth for my taste. Sabine Meyer and her supporters stress the beauty of the music; there’s also a darker side, even in the first movement, and they don’t neglect this, though I’d have liked a little more attention to this aspect.  This version is a shade less incisive in the first movement than, for example, Gervase de Peyer and the Amadeus Quartet in their 1976 account (DG, not currently available). 

I don’t want to over-stress my reservations, however – the slow movement in particular sounds sublime enough to win me over; in this movement, Meyer et al are rather brisker, less inclined to linger than de Peyer and the Amadeus.  There’s plenty of power, too, where it’s needed in the third movement; in fact, the performance improves as it progresses.  A sprightly account of the finale rounds off the performance.  Many collectors will already have at least one version of this much-recorded work – there’s even a vintage performance with Benny Goodman on Naxos – perhaps coupled with the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, as on Karl Leister’s excellent performance with the Berlin Soloists; really good value on Apex 0927435022.  But don’t worry about duplication: this masterpiece can stand more than one interpretation. 

CD2 concludes with a perky performance of the Horn Quintet from Bruno Schneider and a different permutation of players from the Wiener Streichsextett.  This music is every bit as much fun as the more famous Horn Concertos and the performers indulge in the fun for our delight and benefit. 

The final CD returns to the Sabine Meyer Ensemble for the Harmoniemusik, or wind-band arrangement of themes from Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  Such arrangements were common currency, introducing the general public to music which they wouldn’t otherwise hear, in an age before recording.  Mozart made several such arrangements and other composers contributed, as, for example, in the case of Triebensee’s arrangement of music from Don Giovanni, a version of which I recently reviewed (Opera Senza on MDG hybrid SACD 90313436 – see review.) 

The wind Octet version of Die Entführung is believed to have been made by Mozart himself, but the inevitable question must be asked, how valid such arrangements are today with several recommendable recordings of all Mozart’s major operas – especially when a wind band cannot hope to reproduce those military elements in the opera which, for a Viennese audience, were redolent of Turkish-ness, the drum, cymbals and triangle.  The Overture sounds especially bare without percussion.  For many prospective purchasers, it may well be that this reissue would have been perfectly acceptable as a Gemini 2-CD set without the Harmoniemusik. 

The Entführung music is fun, however – look on this third CD as a bonus and enjoy it; after all, the set is very inexpensive, even cheaper than a Naxos 2-CD set.  If you don’t know the opera and the wind version encourages you to get to know it, so much the better.  I’d recommend the classic Böhm performance on DGG as the one to go for (429 868 2, 2 CDs at mid price). 

Not a set of recordings to get too excited about, then – and not such a vital recommendation as Meyer’s version of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante, made at about the same time, a worthy Great Recording of the Century – see Don Satz’s review – but solid value, with performances which never fall below the very acceptable and, mostly, are much better than that.  The recordings, too, are more than acceptable throughout.  Overall, this is an attractive proposition. 

The notes in the booklet are brief but informative.  Though the English notes are the originals from which the German and French versions are translated, they are more heavily abridged than the German.  With almost identical drab covers, these Triples are very hard to tell apart; the large 3 is the most prominent landmark on all of them.

Brian Wilson


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