Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

CD 1
No. 15 in B flat major K287 [37:19];
No. 1 in E flat major K113 [12:58];
CD 2
No. 17 in D major K334 [28:58]
No. 10 in F major K247 [28:58]
Wiener Oktett (Willi Boskovsky, Philipp Matheis (violins); Günther Breitenbach (viola); Nikolaus Hübner (cello); Johann Krump (double-bass); Alfred Boskovsky, Christian Cubasch (clarinets); Josef Veleba, Otto Nitsch (horns))
rec. Grosser Saal, Vienna, June 1959 (K334), September 1952 (K247), Brahmssaal, Musikverein, Vienna, April 1955 (K287), Sofiensaal, Vienna, October 1957 (K113). ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 4328 [50:25 + 66:47]

Mozart’s Divertimenti for strings with horns - and clarinets in the case of K113 - are rare visitors to the concert hall, perhaps partly because of their scoring which rarely fits neatly into concert programmes. This makes these discs especially welcome as not only are they also comparatively rarely recorded, but when they are it has often been by chamber orchestras. Here they are played by soloists, giving them a wholly different character. Better still those soloists are members of The Vienna Octet.

Despite its name the “Octet” it was in fact a flexibly constituted group of players, almost all members of the Vienna Philharmonic, founded by Alfred and Willi Boskovsky who played clarinet and violin respectively. They made recordings for over twenty years from 1947 but the present discs contain performances from the first half of that period, from 1950 to 1957. Whether this was in general a “golden age” for Mozart performances in Vienna – the disc’s subtitle - one may doubt despite the undoubted distinction of the ensemble at the State Opera at that time, but certainly the performances here are well worth resurrecting. They may lack the historical awareness of current performances and the recording does tend at times to favour the first violin at the expense of the rest of the strings, but the players’ subtle phrasing, sweetness of tone and sheer delight in the changing character of the music is irresistible. Played like this I am in no doubt that these pieces work best with solo instruments. Even better, in K287 the bass line is played only by a double-bass – the splendid Johann Krump who plays throughout the discs – without the cello who doubles him at the octave in the other works. The effect is to make the scoring sound even more transparent, and to give the rhythms even more point.

The earliest work is K113 in which Mozart makes one of his earliest uses of clarinets. The oboe, cor anglais and bassoon parts he added for later performances are omitted here making the clarinet parts even more prominent even if this does remove the very quirky colours of the later version. This is an altogether astonishing work, to my mind of much greater interest than the Symphonies from the same date (1771) and it is played to perfection here.

Most short repeats are taken but not all of those of the longer expositions. Tully Potter’s notes place both the Vienna Octet and these Divertimenti in an appropriate context. All in all here are two discs that remind us of works and performers both of which are unfairly neglected.

John Sheppard

Reminds us of unfairly neglected works and performers.