Predictably, this being a BIG Mozart year (the 250th anniversary of his birth), everyone in the classical music industry is celebrating the event with new recordings, reissued recordings, presumably a few discoveries and the inevitable compilations.
Although this very generous entry from Sony—two discs of “highlights from Mozart’s greatest works” plus a “special bonus disc” of the “Serene and Sublime Great Mozart Adagios”— is packaged to look like something you’ll find at the carwash shop next to Johnny Cash anthologies, it draws on both the Sony and BMG catalogues which means there are only the most famous performers and some great performances. The serene and sublime adagios, for example, includes the great adagio from the big wind serenade K. 361 played by Colin Davis and the winds of the Bavarian Radio Symphony (one of the best and most underrated performances), not to mention the great trio (“Soave sia il vento”) from Così (in the sadly forgotten Leinsdorf recording).
Nor is the repertoire on the three discs quite as predictable as you might think. There’s the fourth movement of the great viola quintet K. 614 (played by the Budapest Quartet and Walter Trampler) and the slow movement of the violin and viola concertante K. 364 (a heartrending performance conducted by Raymond Leppard). And you get to hear the great Robert Marcellus in the concluding rondo of the Clarinet Concerto.
But wait, there’s more. The first movement of the K. 453 Piano Concerto with a still in his still wonderful prime Rudolf Serkin, movements from two symphonies conducted by Rafael Kubelik, the slow movement of the Clarinet Quintet played on original instruments, and the legendary Dale Clevenger playing the last movement of one of the horn concertos.And George Szell and the Cleveland Symphony bringing up the rear with the fugue movement from the Jupiter Symphony.
All in all, it’s like listening to the two classical radio stations in Los Angeles during drive time (when the program mangers don’t want to play anything too long for fear station switchers will switch)—but without the smarmy disc jockeys. Could be good for a newbie Mozart initiation, winning bar bets, testing your (or your friends’) knowledge of Mozart, or (especially, with the serene and sublime bonus disc) creating an irresistibly romantic atmosphere for that special someone. And the sound is generally pretty good (amazing how well old CBS material that sounded so poor cleans up!). Too bad Isabelle Emerson’s affectionate and knowledgeable liner note is so brief.
Whether, at a time in history when you can buy the complete works of Mozart on 170 CDs for under $300, this is a bargain remains to be seen. But there’s an awful lot of beautiful music here, beautifully, even sublimely, played. And it’s a useful counterpoint for anyone you catch complaining that classical music has not made it into the mainstream of culture.
– Laurence Vittes