ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Serenade, K361 (Gran Partita); Serenade, K388/K384a (Nacht Musique)
PERFORMER: London Winds/Michael Collins
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4012
The London Winds recording of the so-called Gran Partita, K361 differs from its rivals in treating the work literally as a serenade for 13 winds, with Mozart’s string bass part replaced by a contrabassoon. Michael Collins argues that the wind instrument allows for greater homogeneity of sound, and suggests Mozart would have used it had a reliable instrument and player been available to him. There’s much to be said for the substitution, even though it leaves a question-mark hanging over the few pizzicato passages. Certainly, this is a highly accomplished performance, with the music’s grandeur evident from the very opening bars of the slow introduction. It’s a pity, though, the recording is so dry and bright, making it particularly difficult for the players to be sufficiently discreet in the pulsating inner-voice accompaniment to the ecstatic operatic-style trio that forms the first of the work’s two slow movements.
The Ensemble Philidor has the advantage of warmer recorded sound, and there are moments that benefit from the use of period instruments: the rasping horns in the boisterous finale; or the rapturous oboe melody unfolding over a murmuring accompaniment of clarinets and basset-horns in the Adagio variation from the penultimate movement – surely one of the most sensuous moments in all Mozart. But the performance is a bit characterless at times: that operatic slow movement is rather straight-laced, and so too is the first of the two minuet movements. And an entire CD given over to K361 is short measure these days. London Winds throw in the C minor Serenade for wind octet, K388, in a superb performance, by turns austere and warm, that is surely the equal of any recording of this dark work.
If you want the same two serenades on single disc played on original instruments, you’ll find first-rate performances by Philippe Herreweghe and the wind players of the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées (Harmonia Mundi); but perhaps the finest recording of K361 – with the most lingeringly affectionate account of its first slow movement – is by the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Ensemble. The companion-piece on their disc is the fine E flat Serenade K375. Misha Donat