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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade in E flat major, KV375 [23:01]
Serenade in C minor, KV388 [22:14]
La Clemenza di Tito, KV621, arr. Joseph Triebensee -
Overture and arias from Act 1 (1772-1846) [34:32]
Oslo Kammerakademi/David Friedemann Strunck
rec. 2015 in Ris Church, Oslo
LAWO LWC1141 [79:57]

Mozart’s wind music was intended as background music for social occasions; yet how gloriously it transcends that purpose! It demonstrates a fact that, as listeners, it is easy to forget, namely that the best composers write as much for their performers as they do for their audiences. K.375 and K388 are two of the works with which Mozart announced his presence in Vienna in 1781, and despite their function as ‘entertainment music’, they are works of true substance, especially the great C minor octet K388, which he later arranged for string quintet.

They are also quite perfectly written for the instruments – two each of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns. You can feel the relish with which these excellent Norway-based players seize upon the delicious textures and solo writing. This is an ensemble that might receive a snooty response from purists, as they combine 18th century hand-horns (valveless) with modern woodwind instruments. For me, it’s not a problem, as the hornists play so splendidly, with confident hand-stopping and bold, brassy tone (sample the gutsy fanfare at the start of track 14); they don’t sound in the least out of place amongst the smooth-toned modern instruments.

The playing is indeed very fine, with expressive, fluent oboes and clarinets, and bassoons who make the most of their many big solo passages, particularly in the Clemenza di Tito items (skilfully arranged by the early 19th century composer Joseph Triebensee, himself a fine oboist). For the operatic excerpts, the group is augmented by timpani and double bass. The latter is especially welcome; bassoonists often feel outnumbered by the six higher pitched instruments, and the double bass brings better definition to the bottom line, as well as stronger support for the ensemble.

That said, and despite the beauty of the Clemenza numbers, I found this a mildly disappointing conclusion, in part because the final item on track 20, ‘Deh conservate’, does make a very ‘low-key’ ending to an otherwise fine disc. Perhaps one or two of the earlier Mozart divertimenti – K166 or 186 for example might have been more suitable? And a final plea; if, as I hope, there are going to be more recordings from this superb ensemble, could the microphones be a little closer? The bassoons, with all their big tunes, do sound somewhat distant; a pity when their playing is so very lovely!

Minor carps apart, though, this is a truly enjoyable disc, full of charm and style.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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