“The Jupiter Project: Mozart in the Nineteenth-Century Drawing Room” = Arrangements of Overtures to “Die Zauberflöte” and “Le nozze di Figaro”; Piano Concerto No. 21; Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter” ‒ David Owen Norris, piano / Katy Bircher, flute / Caroline Balding, violin / Andrew Skidmore, cello ‒ Hyperion CDA68234 (8/2/19), 79:49 ****
Ah, those were the days! When ad-hoc ensembles tried out the works of Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, Schubert, Mendelssohn, et al., before the general public had the opportunity to hear them. Times, indeed, when a musical soiree might include a famous or soon-to-be-famous composer playing his or her work for an appreciative crowd. In the same vein are the arrangements on this disc entitled “The Jupiter Project.” Why not have a little Mozart at your next music party? Entirely possible, thanks to these skillful arrangements, for suitably scaled-down forces, by some of the early nineteenth century’s finest pianist-composers.
The title of the current CD, “The Jupiter Project,” is a reference to the arrangement of Mozart’s final symphony made by Muzio Clementi in 1822, an edition that introduced the famous nickname “Jupiter.” The ensemble that Clementi wrote for—piano, flute, violin, and cello—was the perfect vehicle for presenting music of the by-then universally loved composer in the intimate confines of the drawing room. So a sort of cottage industry grew in London, at least, around providing Mozart orchestral fare arranged for this special “Jupiter” ensemble.
Among the arrangers represented in “The Jupiter Project,” Hummel was considered a natural by his contemporaries since he had been Mozart’s star pupil (even living with the Mozarts for a while during his term of study). At least that was the opinion of one Richard Mackenzie Bacon writing in the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review. Bacon further opined that “With regard to the arrangement of MR. HUMMEL, it may be said with truth that it is a perfect model, because there is hardly a single trace that indicates its now being an original composition—the greatest praise that can be given to an arrangement.” I won’t argue the point with Mr. Bacon though I must say I enjoyed Clementi’s arrangement of the “Jupiter” Symphony more than Hummel’s arrangements of Mozart overtures. I found Clementi more imaginative in the way he marshalled his slender forces in an attempt to convey the big gestures of Mozart’s biggest symphony.
For one thing, Hummel’s arrangements are reminiscent of the instrumental balances in a Haydn piano trio, where the cello is there mostly to reinforce the bass notes of the piano rather than as an equal partner to the other members of the ensemble. Both Clementi and J. B. Cramer are somewhat more generous in apportioning the part writing to the various members of the ensemble. For example, the latter may not be able to match the ethereal quality Mozart creates with his haloed writing for the strings in the concerto slow movement, but the sounds Cramer manages to draw from his reduced forces is a canny bit of instrumentation.
However, my first impression of his arrangement was not entirely positive, and one objection was that Cramer was too imaginative, took too many liberties with the score. More about that later. Another objection, or rather observation, was that because the piano must do double duty as solo instrument and as part of the orchestral reduction, the pleasing tension between soloist and orchestra that defines the concerto experience is dissolved. No way around that sort of homogenizing effect, I suppose, yet it did put something of a damper on my enjoyment.
But as to Cramer’s interventions in the score, I came to appreciate them more as I listened again. The solo part has been reimagined by Cramer; it includes some gestures dear to Early Romantic piano composers that Mozart certainly wouldn’t have sanctioned—extra filigree work, big rallentandos, maybe a sprinkling of fermatas. Cramer’s approach is not reengineering as Liszt would do in his arrangements of composers such as Schubert and Weber, but it is High Classical music gently nudged into the nineteenth century. I finally came around to Cramer’s fresh take on Mozart’s masterwork, again finding it more to my liking than the “faithful” treatments by Hummel.
I came away from “The Jupiter Project” enlightened, having gained an insight into the dissemination of musical culture in the early nineteenth century. But more than that, I was entertained by some clever rejiggering of classic works. A program that helps you hear music you know well but in a brand-new way is always a happy experience. So give this one a spin; I think you won’t be disappointed.