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
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
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
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 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.