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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade in E flat major K375 [25:49]
Divertimento in F major, K253 [10:40]
Divertimento in B flat major, K270 [10:01]
Divertimento in E flat major, K252/240a [9:30]
Divertimento in B flat major, K240 [10:36]
Scottish Chamber Wind soloists (Maximiliano Martin, William Stafford (clarinets),
Peter Whelan, Alison Green (bassoons), Alec Frank-Gemmill, Harry Johnstone (horns))
rec. 2014, Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow.
LINN CKD479 SACD [67:00]

Of all major composers, Mozart arguably had the strongest affinity with woodwind instruments – and I include the horns as ‘honorary members’ of that section. Quite apart from the three major works, K361, K375 and K388, he wrote a host of lighter pieces known as ‘Tafelmusik’, indicating that they are to be played during meals or refreshments. The wonderful thing about this music is that, though light, it is all of the highest quality, and thoroughly characteristic of its composer. This scrumptious disc from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra wind soloists gives us one of the major masterpieces, plus four of the earlier entertainment pieces.

Perhaps it is slightly eccentric to start a CD specifically entitled ‘Divertimenti’ with a piece called a ‘serenade’ but I’m not really quibbling. It makes for a great programme and it’s wonderful to have the great E flat Serenade, written ‘con amore’ if any work of Mozart’s was. This piece is more often heard in its version for Octet: including two oboes as well as the pairs of clarinets, bassoons and horns that make up the sextet heard throughout this disc. It should be emphasised, however, that this sextet version is the original scoring, and that Mozart added the oboes later on.

Listening to it, I thought at first that I would miss the oboes, and in one or two places, such as the main melody of the Adagio, I felt I’d love to hear the greater emotional warmth they would give. Generally though, it wasn’t a problem, and the playing is so very beautiful that one quickly begins to revel in the melt-in-the-mouth homogeneity of tone that these superb players produce.

Another bonus is the use of natural horns; this might attract some criticism, as the clarinets and bassoons here are modern instruments. All I can say is that it simply works; the two horn players are consummate artists, and the occasional snarls that characterise the stopped notes actually add to the expressive and tonal range of the music rather than the reverse. A good example of this is the minor key trio of the first Minuet of K375, which becomes almost sinister when done in this way.

K253 and K270, which follow, are both from Mozart’s late Salzburg years, when he was beginning to feel frustrated, and longing to seek fame and fortune in Vienna. Both are highly entertaining and attractive. K253 has a set of variations on a good-natured folk-like theme, followed by a minuet and an allegro. K270 is more conventional in its sequence of movements, and has a fairly substantial opening sonata allegro. K252 is perhaps the most attractive of this earlier group, with a charming opening Andante in 6/8 time, and a Minuet with athletic writing for the horns, followed, unusually, by a Polonaise. The final Presto has more enjoyably extrovert writing for the horns.

K240 in B flat completes the disc, and Mozart here again has written a ‘miniature symphony’ in four movements, of which the jog-trotting second movement is particularly delightful.

One thing that has been skirted over in the booklet notes is the fact that all of these earlier Divertimenti were, unlike K375, written specifically with oboes in mind, and not clarinets. Mozart had definitely come across the clarinet in his travels, both in London and Milan. It was when he heard a pair in the great Mannheim Orchestra that he wrote home bemoaning their absence in Salzburg.

So it would be churlish and downright wrong to disapprove of the use of clarinets on these tracks – it can be seen as a kind of Mozartean wish-fulfilment, and musically, it works like a dream because of the sheer quality of the playing. Even so, it should have been pointed out to the listener more clearly in the notes.

Anyway, that little ‘beef’ aside, I have to say that I enjoyed this CD enormously, and I am particularly grateful to have such a fine recording of the great K375 in its original scoring.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Previous reviews: Brian Wilson & Simon Thompson