“MOZART – En Harmonie” – 22 arrangements for 13 instruments (2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset horns, 4 horns, 2 bassoons and 1 double bass) of MOZART operas: The Marriage of Figaro; Don Giovanni; Cosi fan tutte – Zefiro/ Alfredo Bernardini – Arcana

“MOZART – En Harmonie” – 22 arrangements for 13 instruments (2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset horns, 4 horns, 2 bassoons and 1 double bass) of MOZART operas: The Marriage of Figaro; Don Giovanni; Cosi fan tutte – Zefiro/ Alfredo Bernardini – Arcana A374, 61:04 [4-29-14] [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

This is a spectacular success on all counts, and the dominant first position is a race between Zefiro’s ribald, delicious and suavely expert Mozartian concoctions based on the greatest moments in the three operas and the simply drop-dead-gorgeous-sound with which the 13-member band (the number of members for whom Mozart wrote his iconic Serenade K. 361) conjure up Mozart’s fantasy worlds with their gurgling clarinets, carousing bassoons, noble French horns who can hardly keep a straight face, and oboes who vie with the clarinets for the most beautiful, creamy, heartbreaking melodies

The best comes first with Figaro where the concept is startling and fresh; the results in Don Giovanni and Cosi are less convincing despite continuing, highly diverting felicities and occasional bits of shtick like of the Zefiro crew ending the Don Giovanni set calling the Don to hell in a very stentorian voice; there is a lot of foot stamping and shouting when Guglielmo and Ferrando march off to war. Fun when you first hear it but will it wear with time?

And what a revelation it might be if a real production with voices and everything tried to take the tempos Zefiro and Bernardini take. Check out for instance their preposterously dashing “Ah guarda, sorella” from Cosi.

The recordings were made at the 14th century Abbey of San Martino delle Scale, 10 miles west of Palermo (the original Abbey building was built around 600, burnt down by Moors in 829 and built anew over the ruins in 1346). Bernardini’s liner notes aren’t much but there are seven pages of unforgettable color photographs of Zefiro dressed in period costumes with their instruments, hanging around the Abbey’s marble statues while looking themselves like mannequins who wandered in from a Star Trek episode.

—Laurence Vittes

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