Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No.9 in D major K320 'Posthorn Serenade' [41.07]
March in D major K335 No.1 [4.13]
March in D major K335 No.2 [4.17]
Serenade No.13 in G major K525 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' [24.20]
Die Kölner Akademie /Michael Alexander Willens
rec. Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany , December 2015, Co-production with Deutschlandfunk
Reviewed in surround 5.0
BIS SACD BIS-2244 [74.41]

Until now Die Kölner Akademie have been making their name in my book as the accompanying band for Brautigam's magnificent Mozart keyboard concertos series. I had wondered for some time if Willens' group might not be the perfect one to record music such as these serenades. This disc containing two of them, the most famous serenade and one of the biggest, is my answer. The main work, the so called 'Posthorn Serenade', not the composer's appellation, is a large scale piece lasting some 40 to 50 minutes, especially if, as here, the almost identical framing march movements are both played. There are seven movements in the serenade proper. Unlike earlier classical serenades, those of Mozart cannot be seen simply as occasional music. The orchestra is as large as that used in his major symphonies, consisting, as it does, of 2 flutes, (1 doubling on piccolo (flautino) in the first trio of the second minuet), 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, posthorn, timpani and strings. The formal layout is way beyond the requirements of entertainment music with a symphonic scale first movement lasting over eight minutes and a Presto finale of considerable power. The central movements are virtually a sinfonia concertante for wind instruments. It is perhaps for this reason that Willens' approach is more spacious than I initially expected. As a quick comparison I consulted the timings on Harnoncourt's Concentus Musicus recording and found he takes even longer over the piece. Compared to the much more famous, and more regularly performed, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, this big serenade calls for concentrated listening.

The well filled disc is completed by the famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, this time in five movement form as Mozart intended, with an additional minuet from the String Quartet in G major K80 to fill the space left when the original second movement went missing. This performance is up against one by the English Concert on Harmonia Mundi SACD HMU807280 which I confess to finding more fun to listen to (incidentally, I note at least one violinist, Catherine Martin, is a member of both orchestras).

One cannot fault the excellent players of Die Kölner Akademie who demonstrate once again that they are amongst the best groups in the world of period performance. Personally, I would be interested to hear them play the other big orchestral serenade, the 'Haffner' K250, which has always seemed the more joyful of these two works. Mozart's Serenades and Divertimenti are worthy of more exposure and I am confident that Willens and his band are well able to make us pay attention should they record more of them for BIS. This recording, made fairly soon after the final disc in the Brautigam keyboard concerto series, was recorded in the same hall and has the same characteristics of clarity, depth and spread.

Dave Billinge

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