I noticed two things immediately upon unpacking this new release. The back cover of the lavish packaging says clearly “Hybrid Stereo” only. An error in the usual attention to detail from this perfectionistic label – the SACD is multichannel. Then I turned it over and the cover art seemed identical to a previous Mozart SACD from 2003: a very similar program from The English Concert and Andrew Manze on Harmonia mundi. It is the 1816 painting of the Queen of the Night singing her aria from The Magic Flute, but the Savall cover is a more close up view of the painting.
The latter contradicts the sonic picture between the two SACDs. The Manze version is actually recorded much closer and with greater contrasts of dynamic range, while the new Savall has a more distant perspective and less bite in the climaxes. It is also played at a slightly lower tuning and is somewhat thinner sounding than the Manze recording. The bass end is more prominent in the Manze and on the Notturna the tympani are extremely prominent. The more distant pickup of the Savall seems to provide more reverberation in the hall of the Chateau de Cardona where it was recorded, but the Manze still captures an impression of the space at Air Studios in London where it was recorded. Both recordings are informed by the latest Mozartian scholarship and are superb performance wise. It’s a case of “chacon a son gout.”
Eine kleine nachtmusik, The Musical Joke, and the Serenade in D are on both discs, with the new Savall having the Notturno KV 286 instead of the Adagio & Fugue in c KV 546 and Menuet & Trio in C KV 485a which are on the Manze disc. I felt Savall missed an opportunity to have Mozart’s four little orchestras at the four points of the compass for KV 286, as the experimental CEO/engineer of the Tacet label would be wont to do. Both ensembles chose to end their programs with the Musical Joke. I’ve always gotten a kick out of this work, which seems to provide such an insight into Mozart’s sense of humor. I understand for centuries it was regarded as unseemly of the composer to write such a parody of bad composers and performers – a satire – shortly after the death of his father. But it was recently discovered the dates were wrong, and he had actually composed most of it long before his father passed away. Each of the four movements lays on the musical jokes a bit heavier. For example, the playing is perfect in the opening Allegro though close listening reveals corny melodies and boring treatment of them. But by the fourth movement the players are coming apart at the seams and the final chord is one big 18th century clam.
– John Sunier