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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No.11 in E flat, K375 (version for wind sextet) [25:56]
Divertimento in F, K253 [10:47]
Divertimento in B flat, K270 [10:10]
Divertimento in E flat, K252/240a [9:37]
Divertimento in B flat, K240 [10:37]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists
rec. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, 5-7 April 2014.  DDD/DSD
LINN RECORDS CKD479 SACD [67:08]

I had two classic recordings of K375 in mind before listening to this recording.  One will not be to all tastes since it dates from Otto Klemperer’s later years; it can be found on the short-lived 8-CD Klemperer Legacy set of Mozart Symphonies, Overtures and Serenades, no longer generally available in the UK, though some dealers still stock it (Warner 4043612 – review).  K375 was recorded at his very last session in 1971 and it is taken at a sedate pace.

Jack Brymer and the London Wind Soloists on the Decca set of Mozart’s complete wind music, on the other hand, take us through the work at a sprightly pace (4557942, download only): their version of the opening allegro maestoso takes 7:15 against Klemperer’s 8:03, though the difference actually sounds greater than that.  So Klemperer was slow and lumpen and that proves it.  Hold on a moment, though: there are two parts to that tempo indication and Klemperer is definitely maestoso, so arguably closer to what is required.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra wind soloists on the new recording are, it seems, with Klemperer on this, taking 10:26, which doesn’t mean slower still because they observe more repeats, but it does mean that their basic concept of the movement is closer to Klemperer’s than to Brymer’s.  Christopher Hogwood with the period-instrument Amadeus Winds (Decca Duo 4580962) is of like mind, observing the repeats and taking 10:52 over this movement.  Sabine Meyer, too, with the Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble, takes the movement at a fairly deliberate pace (EMI Electrola 9538242, mid-price, with Serenade No.l2, K388 – review of earlier release) as do the Holliger Wind Ensemble, originally on Volume 5 of the Philips complete Mozart Edition (4225052, no longer available except as downloads).

K375 is a comparatively large-scale work and it can certainly take such a grand view of the opening movement but the Scottish players are no slouches in the minuet and trio and the closing allegro.  Overall I enjoyed this performance as much as any – it’s slightly less sedate than Klemperer, with more character than Meyer or Holliger and easier to live with than Amadeus Winds if you’re not attuned to their fairly early recording of period wind instruments.

There is one other performance which I should mention because it’s been unfairly overshadowed: English Concert Winds recorded Serenades Nos. 11 and 12, with shortened but enjoyable wind transcriptions of the Figaro and Don Giovanni overtures, for Hyperion in 1997.  It’s one of those recordings which, inexplicably, is available on CD only from the Archive Service but the download of these stylish performances is readily available, sounding well in mp3 and lossless formats, with pdf booklet, for just £6.99 (CDA66887).  At that price you could afford both this and the new Linn recording.

The SCO players don’t rush the Divertimenti either: once again they are slightly slower in K253 than their London counterparts and here too, though I enjoy the sparkling Brymer-directed performance, the music can readily take a more sedate approach.  These Divertimenti were written to amuse Archbishop Colloredo but performances as good and as enjoyable as these remind us that there’s much more to the music than mere amusement.

There’s a case for having all the wind music in one basket by downloading the London Wind Soloists on Decca.  There’s also a lot to be said for having the budget-price Decca Duo on authentic instruments, especially as it contains Serenades Nos. 10, the Gran Partita, K361, and 12, K388, in addition to the Serenade No.11 and the four divertimenti recorded by Linn.

The budget-price 3-CD EMI set containing the Serenades Nos.10-12, the Clarinet and Horn Quintets and Harmoniemusik from Die Entführungreview – is no longer available but Nos. 11 and 12 from that set can be had separately on the Electrola recording listed above.  Otherwise the new SCO/Linn recording is very usefully supplemented with the fine performance of Serenade No.10, the Gran Partita, on a super-budget Hyperion Helios recording (CDH55093, The Albion Ensemble).

The recordings of Mozart’s late symphonies which Sir Charles Mackerras made with the SCO towards the end of his career are one of the glories of the Linn catalogue.  Without suggesting that these new performances of Mozart’s lighter music are quite in that category, they are very fine in every respect: performance, recording and presentation all make this a very worthy successor to the earlier Linn/SCO recording of the Serenade, K185 and Divertimento, K113 (now re-numbered as BKD287 – review). 

I listened to the 24/96 and mp3 downloads from hyperion-records.co.uk and both are very good of their kind, with a clear advantage in firmness to the former.  The album is also available on SACD and in mp3, 16/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless from linnrecords.com, with pdf booklet in both cases.

All the music is performed in wind sextet format – the Serenade also features in a later octet version, but there’s very little to choose between them.  If I must single out two performers from the six it has to be Alec Frank-Gemmill and Harry Johnstone who have made a speciality of playing the natural horn, a most difficult beast to master – they are pictured with it in the booklet.  I have recently been far from alone in admiration for a new Hyperion recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos with Pipp Eastop on natural horn (CDA68097 – review).  The horn parts of these divertimenti may be less demanding but Frank-Gemmill and Johnstone’s playing and that of all their SCO colleagues is equally worthy of praise.  These players have been making a speciality of performing wind-band music in recent years.  I hope that we shall have more recordings of them in that repertoire.

Brian Wilson




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