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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 (Maximiliano Martín and William Stafford (clarinets); Peter Whelan and Alison Green (bassoons); Alec Frank-Gemill and Harry Johnstone (horns))
rec. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, 5-7 April 2014. DDD/DSD

The great Mozart scholar, Alfred Einstein, once said of Mozart’s occasional music that, “There are people who would trade a whole act of Tannhäuser or Lohengrin for one of these works, a lost paradise of music.” This disc reminded me what he meant. I’ve loved these works since hearing Jack Brymer’s classic set with the London Wind Soloists, and the selection of works on this disc need fear little from the comparison.

I’ve praised these musicians often when I’ve heard them, both in the flesh and on disc. They sound great individually, but they are real ensemble musicians, as their regular work with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra will testify, and it’s that sense of individual skill combined with communal enterprise that really makes this disc work. For a start, there is a beautifully warm feel to the sound. The Linn recording is close and personal, as these works should be, and there is a sweetness to the playing that is never lost, nor should it be taken for granted. The Serenade K375 feels like a full-scale symphonic work performed in the most intimate circumstances, due to playing that is thoughtful and sensitive while remaining personable and characterful. The delectably sweet clarinet sings out the melody while the natural horns delicately comment on it with distinctive period sound. All six lines weave in and out of each other effortlessly, with runs that are particularly delicious. It's altogether delightful, and symptomatic of how rest of disc will unfold. The slow movement is particularly beautiful with lots of give-and-take between the musicians and playing of such wonderful sensitivity. The finale then absolutely sparkles, with perky wit in the outer sections but mellifluous smoothness in the runs of the central section.

The Divertimenti might seem, at first glance, to be mere diversions, but in fact it’s remarkable, when you consider that most of this music was probably written as background to some sort of entertainment, that Mozart invested them with such care and effortless beauty. K253 begins with a set of theme and variations: the theme is played with smoothness and honeyed delicacy, and the subsequent variations then flow into one another beautifully while retaining their distinctive character. The Minuet that follows is every bit as tender, with an especially lively Trio section, and the finale bustles along very nicely with some particularly attractive grace notes from the clarinet. K270 has a busy opening movement played with characterful zest, and the Andantino is played with uncommon grace and elegance, with a finale that is all effervescent wit. It helps you to realise why Mozart was in such demand for music like this. K252 begins with a really charming Andante. There is a hurdy-gurdyish sense of swagger to the third movement Polonaise, an unusual movement for Mozart, and a sense of the chase to finale. K240, on the other hand, has a virile opening, with assertive punctuation from rest of the band, and a finale that feels like a game of hide-and-seek in its witty interactions between musicians. It also has a real winner of a slow movement, its mellifluous long line spun out with cantabile sweetness.

It seems invidious to single out one player for praise in what is clearly an intrinsically communal enterprise, but Martín's clarinet, so frequently given the lead, is particularly winning, charming in the slow movements, full of sparkle and wit in the faster ones. That’s not to do down his colleagues, however, who play with assertiveness, grace and wit. The whole air of the disc is exceptionally genial and I enjoyed it immensely.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Brian Wilson


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