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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenata Notturna, Serenade No. 6 for strings and timpani in D major K239 [12:20]
Fantasia, Adagio and Allegro for mechanical organ clock in F minor K594 (arranged for strings by Oskar Jockel) [10:18]
Adagio and Fugue in C minor K546 [7:05]
Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Serenade for strings in G major K525 [21:39]
(includes a menuetto by Thomas Attwood, corrected and enlarged by Mozart; 1791)
Berliner Barock Solisten/Reinhard Goebel
rec. January 2021, Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie, Berlin

The release focusses on Mozart’s music for string ensemble, two original works, one of them with a movement by Mozart’s pupil, and a string arrangement.

Berliner Barock Solisten, who specialise in early-music performance, were founded in 1995 by Rainer Kussmaul and Raimar Orlovsky, and included members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and other early-music specialists. It is not a period-instrument orchestra such as its close neighbour, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (who use gut strings, period bows, natural horns and so on). They play on modern instruments or old instruments with modern set-up.

It is uncommon for me to encounter a specialist early-music ensemble who play in a flexible, period-informed manner and employ aspects of historical performance practice. Reinhard Goebel, artistic director of the Berliner Barock Solisten, was asked in 2016 about a particular recording. He said: “I really couldn’t care less about the superficial things: the bow, the gut strings, no endpin, whatever. I want to focus on getting to the very bottom of the material, as deep as I possibly can.” Typically, he tailors the ensemble size to the needs of the work. For these Mozart pieces, he has thirteen strings, plus a single timpanist for the Serenata Notturna.

The album begins with one of Mozart’s most famous works, the Serenade No 13 for strings K525, popularly known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Written in 1787, when Mozart was heavily involved in composing his opera Don Giovanni, the Serenade is alive with memorable melodies. Mozart noted in his personal catalogue that the score had five movements; only four survive. In place of the missing first minuet and trio movement, Goebel has included a G major menuetto that Mozart had set as an exercise for his student Thomas Attwood; he then prepared amendments and an enlargement. Goebel takes both the opening Allegro and fourth movement Menuetto: Allegretto a touch quicker than I am used to, in a crisp and invigorating performance.

Another widely admired work is the 1776 Serenade No 6 for strings and timpani K239, known as the Serenata Notturna. ‘Notturna’ indicates that the work was written for evening recreation: a night work. In three movements, it is a short piece, here just under twelve and a half minutes. The scoring for strings and timpani is a rather uncommon combination. The work does not get off to the best of starts. In the opening section of the first movement Marcia: Maestoso, I would question the balance of the excessively loud timpani, as well the resonant low strings that overpower the high strings. The solo part – which the concertmaster has with his small group of second violin, first viola and double bass – can barely be heard.

In 1790, Mozart wrote the Adagio and Allegro K594 meant for a mechanical organ clock. Goebel writes how it was composed at the behest of fellow Freemason Count Joseph Deym in remembrance of the death of Austrian General Ernst Gideon von Laudon. In a Vienna gallery, Deym had built a mausoleum to General Laudon, housing a mechanical organ in a clock that would play the Fantasia at a prescribed time. Here we have a string arrangement prepared by Oskar Jockel. Two short F minor Adagio sections serve as a sombre memorial to General Laudon; a contrasting central section is a buoyant F major Allegro that feels sincere and noble.

At just over seven minutes, the shortest work here is the Adagio and Fugue in C minor K546 from 1788. It is scored for a string group, and often performed by string quartets. A solemn and rather intense opening Adagio is followed by a Fugue marked Allegro that forges on unremittingly.

The programme was recorded at the Kammermusiksaal at the Philharmonie in Berlin. (I have attended chamber and solo concerts there, but I have not heard many recordings made in the hall.) As noted, the timpani in the Serenata Notturna sound unnecessarily strident, and the low strings are always further forward than I prefer. Reinhard Goebel wrote the booklet essay. It is pleasing to have the director’s perspective on these works. A little more detail on each work would have been helpful.

One senses that the orchestra has an impressive rapport with Goebel, who directs the string ensemble in performances that feel unfailingly fresh and dignified. There is nothing unstylish about the playing, and concertmaster Roberto González-Monjas leads impressively. The two shorter string works are fascinating contributions, serving as more than mere fillers.

This is an agreeable album but it does not give me the same level of engagement as older and now classic accounts of the Serenata Notturna and Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Sir Neville Marriner conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, who use modern instruments, in recordings from 1982/1985; the Philips Duo album “The Great Serenades” also contains the Haffner and Posthorn serenades, and everything is spiritedly and beautifully played. There are 1983 accounts on period instuments by the Academy of Ancient Music directed by Christopher Hogwood (coupled with the Notturno K286) on the L'Oiseau Lyre’s Florilegium Series.

Michael Cookson

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