Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik; Serenata notturna, K239; Adagio & Fugue in C minor, K546; Ein musikalischer Spass, K522; Minuet & Trio in C, K485a

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Eine kleine Nachtmusik; Serenata notturna, K239; Adagio & Fugue in C minor, K546; Ein musikalischer Spass, K522; Minuet & Trio in C, K485a
PERFORMER: The English Concert/Andrew Manze
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907280
If you’re one of those who’d be happy never to hear Eine kleine again, this could be just the antidote. I can’t remember another performance of this most hackneyed of classical works that combines such spontaneous freshness with such sharpness of detail. The high-adrenalin opening sets the tone, with the second violins’ ‘fill-in’ semiquavers fizzing with nervous energy rather than merely chugging. Phrasing is invariably inventive, articulation delightfully varied; and while some may raise an eyebrow at Manze’s tempo manipulations, the results always enhance the spirit of the music. The wit of the finale, in particular, is heightened here by many sly touches of timing. Typically, Manze and the English Concert play up the contrast between the strutting minuet and the delicate Ländler trio, the latter done at a real sotto voce, as Mozart asks; and at the composer’s prescribed forte (most performances follow faulty editions and play it piano), the C minor episode of the Romance here sounds unusually passionate and disturbed.

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The rest of the programme has the same exuberance and freedom from routine. Manze and his band play the Serenata notturna with a sharp ear both for its courtly swagger and its faintly absurd contrasts between thunderous tuttis and fragile solo textures; and I loved the ridiculously self-important timpani cadenza near the end. Elsewhere there is a lean, astringent reading of the C minor Adagio and Fugue, and a performance of A Musical Joke – a work that normally has me itching for the fast-forward button – that actually made me laugh out loud, above all when the horns’ solo turns in the minuet disintegrate further and further into chaos with each repeat. Suaver, more silken performances of all these works, especially the two serenades, are easy to come by. But I don’t know of any that can match these for freshness, exhilaration and sheer fun. Richard Wigmore