Mozart: Serenade, K361 (Gran Partita); Serenade, K388/K384a (Nacht Musique)

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Onyx
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.

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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.

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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