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MOZART: Serenade in B-flat Major; “Gran Partita”; Serenade in E-flat Major – EU Ch. Orch./ Santiago Mantas – Divine Art

Conductor Mantas and his European Union Chamber Orch. Wind Octet do honor to Mozart. 

MOZART: Serenade in B-flat Major, K. 361 “Gran Partita”; Serenade in E-flat Major, K. 375 – European Union Ch. Orch./ Santiago Mantas – Divine Art dda 25136, 77:21 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Of all the recorded music in rather generous collections of German conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler and the Russian Serge Koussevitzky, the one curiosity persists in their Mozart repertory, and that is the 1781 Serenade in B-flat Major, the so-called Gran Partita. I assume that is because the work presents a mammoth design for chamber wind instruments, it provides a masterful display piece for any philharmonic’s principal players.

The seven movements of the Gran Partita consist of a sonata-allegro with a Lento introduction, a Menuetto and double trio, an Adagio, another Menuetto and double trio featuring an obvious ländlera tripartite Romance: Adagio, a theme and variations with a curious interruption, and a spritely finale, Molto allegro, totaling nearly an hour of music. The one performance during Mozart’s lifetime occurred 23 March 1784, at a benefit concert created by clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler, though he auditioned only four of its movements.  Since answers to the questions of eingangen (little cadenzas), double-dotting, ornamentation, grace notes, tempos, and more can only be guessed at, each conductor makes his own choices, and I must admit I find those (rec. 6-17 November 2015) by Mantas compelling.

The opening Largo sets a sonority definitely symphonic breadth, with lovely sound reproduction, courtesy of veteran Recording Engineer Tony Faulkner. Mozart pays particular attention to the different timbres that distinguish clarinets from basset horns, and the peppy Molto allegro moves with fleet dexterity and no shortage of humor from the bassoons. The sheer energy Mozart compels from a “wind band” may encourage more converts to this expressive medium that Mozart found to his taste 1781-82.

The first Menuetto follows a resolute progression, with two trios, the first of which features clarinets and the second the oboes. The sobriety of affect continues into Adagio, which bears a melodic relation to the Masonic music and to opera seria. The accompanying figures seem restless in the accompaniment, even while oboe, clarinet and basset horn develop a plangent melody. The second Menuetto, however, moves into a mirthful character, rather militant, but softened by the second trio, in which the colors shift to a flowing melody in combination of oboe, basset horn, and bassoon. The Romanze engages Mozart’s capacity to steal moments from Eternity – but he breaks off after three minutes into a lively Allegretto with bassoon puffery that sparkles until a return to the minor key imposes once more a reserved sadness.

Mozart had utilized the tune for his Thema mit Variationen in his Flute Quartet K. Anh. 171 (1778). The theme’s similarity to the Un poco adagio, cantabile from Haydn’s Symphony No. 47 has arisen among commentators. The series of variants proves Mozart at his most inventive, especially in the scoring for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. The finale, Molto allegro, seems impatient to end the pleasures of the divertissement, and its earthy energy might have provided crisp impetus might have given Brahms a thought or two for his own first Serenade.

Conductor Mantas can rightly boast that his version of the E-flat Serenade, K. 375 (1781) gives us the premiere of its complete score as Mozart intended. Mozart scored the work in 1782 as an octet, adding oboes and altering the coda to the finale. The score – in a sextet version – as it sits in the Prussian State Library, Berlin has movements two and four in the hand of an unknown copyist. Karl Haas discovered errors in the second Menuetto, besides which the version published by Aloys Fuchs omits its second trio. Conductor Mantas restores the missing trio and corrects – removes – the spurious bar 19 of the Menuetto.

The resultant performance gives us a model of Mozart’s large-serenade style, albeit a curiosity in that all the movements remain in the same key. The second bassoon often serves as a continuo to support the upper harmonies. The opening Allegro maestoso conveys the feeling of a major concerto or concertante work, and the animated optimism carries over into the first Menuetto. Mozart assigns entry passages to each instrument to proceed into the Adagio movement’s serene tunes. The clarinets play important roles in the second Menuetto, which moves with the grace of style the omitted measure permits. The second trio bubbles in a manner reminiscent of the E-flat Symphony, K. 543.  In the rousing finale, Allegro, the oboes and clarinets pair off in antiphons, quite energetic. I enjoyed the playing of the French horn throughout this recording, sometimes a bit nostalgic for Dennis Brain to participate. Still, a model job by all principals. [Amazon presently only has a couple of the movements of the Partita as MP3 files, but may have the CD later…Ed.]

—Gary Lemco

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