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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade in B flat major, K361 Gran Partita [45:33]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Notturno No. 8 in G major, Hob. II:27 [14:58]
Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock
rec.16-18 April 2015, St George’s, Bristol, UK
LINN CKD516 SACD [60:31]

It was appropriate that by sheer coincidence I reviewed this disc during the week in which the death of the playwright Sir Peter Shaffer (1926-2016) was announced. The third movement of Mozart’s B flat Serenade was one of the pieces memorably used in the soundtrack to the 1984 film adaptation of his play, Amadeus.

This is the latest in a series of recordings by Trevor Pinnock and the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble Their three previous recordings (review ~ review ~ review) have all been warmly received on this site but this is the first time one of their discs has come my way.

In his excellent notes Timothy Jones reminds us that the Serenade’s unique sonority results from the fact that the great majority of the instruments involved are ones “whose centre of gravity is in the alto and tenor registers.” Without ever over-egging the pudding both Pinnock and the engineers ensure that Mozart’s rich sonorities are given their full due here. That particular stall is set out in the fine, sonorous rendition of the Largo introduction to the first of the seven movements. Then, however, the following Allegro molto displays high energy levels and crispness. In the Menuetto second movement Pinnock finds just the right mix of stateliness and mobility.

The first of the two Adagios, the one used in Amadeus, is a sublime creation. Sensibly, Pinnock keeps the music on the move so that richness of timbre does not spill over into heaviness of articulation. He gives the music air and the space to breathe that air. It’s interesting that the fifth movement, Romance, which similarly has the Adagio tempo indication, is treated more expansively. In their mellow performance of the Romance Pinnock and his young instrumentalists find warmth and grace though the quick episode partway through is lively indeed.

In between the two slow movements comes a second Menuetto. This is done in a very dapper fashion and I like the excellent use made of dynamic contrasts in the trio. The Theme and Variations movement, the sixth, is a delight; there’s so much that is smiling and good-natured in this performance. The Allegro molto finale is wonderfully vivacious. The movement seems to be over in a flash, more’s the pity.

As a filler we are offered Haydn’s Notturno No. 8. It’s one of a set of nine which included a part for an intriguing instrument, the lira organizzata – in fact for two of them. Timothy Jones describes the lira as a hybrid, combining features of the organ and the hurdy-gurdy. Here the Notturno is played in the revised version which Haydn made in London. In this version the scoring requires flute, oboe, pairs of violins, violas and horns plus a ‘basso’. There are three movements. In the first, after a slow introduction the music is sprightly and graceful; Haydn’s good humour is much in evidence. The slow movement is quite lovely; I was struck by how sparely it is scored in places. Then the delightful ‘hunting’-style finale really gets the toes tapping. Pinnock and his team give a highly accomplished and enjoyable performance. It’s not clear from the documentation whether the string players are using period instruments. If not they are certainly respecting period style, especially in the matter of vibrato.

The recording, produced by the Academy’s Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, has been made in St George’s, Bristol, the venue for the previous recordings. I don’t know if Robert Cammidge was the engineer for those discs but to judge by the excellent results he’s obtained here he knows how to get the best out of a venue and an ensemble.

This is a delectable disc; especially recommended for listening on a warm summer’s evening with a glass of some suitably chilled liquid at your elbow.

John Quinn

Previous review: Des Hutchinson



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