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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791): "Eine kleine Nachtmusik - Serenades and Divertimenti for strings"

Concerto de' Cavalieri
Dir: Marcello Di Lisa

rec: Feb 7 - 10, 2010, Rome, Auditorium Parco della Musicaabcf; Nov 26 - 29, 2011, Frascati, Villa Cavallettide
Sony - 88765417272 (2 CDs) ( 2013) (1.52'13")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover & track-list

Divertimento in D (KV 136/125a)a; Divertimento in F (KV 138/125c)b; Divertimento in B flat (KV 137/125b)c; Quintet in B flat (KV 174) (1st & 2nd version)d; Serenade in D 'Serenata notturna' (KV 239)e; Serenade in G 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik' (KV 525)f

Francesca Vicari, Antonio De Secondi, Paolo Perrone, David Simonaccie; Piero Massa, Anna Skorupskade, viola; Luigi Piovanoabcf, Giovanna Barbatide; Luca Cola, double bass; Luca Tarantino, guitar; Marcello Di Lisa, fortepiano; Elisabetta Di Filippo, timpanie

In the last decades of the 18th century many pieces were written for entertainment. They bear various names, such as divertimento, notturno or serenade (serenata). Those titles don't tell us anything about their character. These were not fixed forms, and the number of movements and the scoring could greatly vary. That causes some problems for a modern performance, especially in regard to the number of players involved. The compositions by Mozart which are the subject of the present disc are good examples.

These are well-known and regularly performed and recorded. The performances are quite different especially in regard to the size of the ensemble. Sometimes they are played with a (small) orchestra, but there are also performers who consider them as chamber music pieces and prefer a scoring with one instrument per part. The latter is also the case here.

The Divertimenti KV 136, 137 and 138 date from 1772 and apparently belong together. They are scored for two violins, viola and bass. Basically that makes them not unlike string quartets, but the general indication of 'bass' - rather than cello, as would be common in a string quartet - suggests that they don't belong to this genre. From that angle a performance with more than one instrument per part can't be excluded. More problematic is the realization of the bass part. It is sometimes suggested that a cello should suffice, but often a double bass is also included, like in this recording. Questionable seems the inclusion of a keyboard. It is true that it was a fixed part of the classical orchestra, even if its participation was not specifically indicated. Whether that means that it also was used in music like these divertimenti is a rather different question. Considering the time of composition both the harpsichord and the fortepiano are legitimate options. It seems plausible to assume that most amateurs still played the harpsichord, as the fortepiano was relatively new and also quite expensive. Here a fortepiano is used. The instrument is not specified, but a picture of the recording sessions shows Marcello Di Lisa behind a square piano. It produces a quite strong sound, and as a result it is far too dominant. That is also due to Di Lisa's pretty agressive style of playing.

The Serenade in G which is known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik - which is the title Mozart himself gave to this piece - is also often performed as an orchestral work. It dates from 1787 and originally comprised five movements. The menuetto and trio which followed the opening allegro have been lost. The scoring is for two violins, viola, cello and double bass. Here again the fortepiano participates in the performance of the bass part with the same effect as in the three divertimenti.

The Serenata notturna is a peculiar work as it is scored for two ensembles: the first comprises two solo violins, viola and double bass, the second two violins, viola, cello and timpani. In his liner-notes Cliff Eisen states that "[to] some extent it is a backward-looking work" as it is reminiscent of the baroque concerto grosso with its division in a concertino and a ripieno. The piece was written in January 1776 which suggests an indoor performance. That in itself doesn't tell anything about the size of the ensemble to be used for a performance. However, generally the ensembles were not large, not even in performances of symphonies. Moreover, there is no clear boundary between the various genres as divertimento, serenade or symphony anyway.

The probably most controversial performance in this set concerns the Divertimento in B flat (KV 174), better known as a quintet for two violins, two violas and cello. That is how this piece is mostly performed and recorded. That is to say, if it is performed at all, because it is one of Mozart's lesser-known works, and it sometimes is even omitted in 'complete' recordings of his string quintets. It dates from 1773 and was written under the influence of two similar works by Johann Michael Haydn, younger brother of Franz Joseph, and a good friend of Mozart. Those pieces were called notturno and that is apparently taken as a reason to treat this work as the other divertimenti. However, as we have noted the title doesn't tell us anything about the scoring. Michael Haydn's two compositions could well be intended as string quintets too. The interesting aspect of this recording is the inclusion of two movements from the first version of this piece: a short trio - later extended to a menuet-trio pair - and a closing allegro.

Otherwise I am not that enthusiastic about these performances. I have no problems with the scoring as such, and the 'alternative' treatment of the Quintet or Divertimento in B flat is quite interesting and can't be considered 'wrong' as such. However, the way the approach to this repertoire has been worked out doesn't convince me and in fact works against the very concept.

I already referred to the role of the fortepiano. It is quite possible that the instrument is too 'modern' for these works. It is a shame that the booklet doesn't give any details about the instruments used here. Even when it is an instrument from Mozart's time its role is too dominant. The same goes for the double bass in, for instance, the original allegro from Mozart's Quintet KV 174. It is also involved for some reason - apparently not required in the score - in the timpani solo in the rondeau from the Serenata notturna. That solo is far too long anyway, and highly exaggerated. The use of a guitar is highly questionable as this instrument plays hardly a role in Mozart's oeuvre. I also would like to see some evidence of its use in diverting pieces in Austria in his time.

That is not all. The tempi are generally very fast. In some cases it is so fast that there is hardly any melody. That goes, for instance, for the closing allegro assai from the Divertimento in F (KV 138). The playing is so abrupt that there are hardly any phrases. Add to that almost brutal dynamic accents which lend these performances a quite agressive touch. Where is the entertainment here? The frequent use of vibrato which is much more than ornamental is rather annoying.

All in all, as refreshing and interesting as some aspects of these performances might be, these interpretations have not convinced me and seem to me at odds with the diverting character of these compositions.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

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