Mantas Conducts Mozart Serenades


MOZART: Serenades, K. 361 (“Gran Partita) & K. 375 / The European Union Chamber Orchestra Wind Octet; Santiago Mantas, cond / Divine Art DDA 25136

This disc is unusual in that both works here are serenades for wind instruments only: no strings, no trumpets or trombones, no percussion. According to the notes, pieces like this were normally composed for only six to eight musicians, sometimes with an ad hoc double bass line, but more often without. Mozart apparently wrote eight such works: five between 1775-1777 and three more in 1781-82. This CD presents two of these last three.

The first of them, subtitled “Gran Partita,” is clearly the meatier of the two, having long movements with quite complex development, unusual for a work clearly intended to be entertaining. According to Roger Hellyer, this one was written as a wedding day present for his new bride, Constanze, but the program of the actual wedding day festivities is somewhat confused and it is uncertain that this fairly long work (it lasts a full 50 minutes) was actually performed at that time (August 4, 1782). Its first public performance wasn’t until nearly two years later, on March 23, 1784.

This serenade, which uses a double bass in some sections (lightly played but audible), opens with a fairly light, jolly first movement but turns more serious in the first minuet, which lasts almost nine minutes. This has a much more complex development section than one normally finds in such pieces, including several transpositions into the relative minor. The second minuet features a surprisingly dark-sounding theme in the minor and some surprising extended harmonic clashes, as well as audible pizzicato bass playing in the background. The full serenade includes seven movements, the sixth being an even more complex “theme and variations” that runs over 10 minutes.  One of the most striking features of this work is the way Mozart scored it, using the higher winds (flutes and clarinets) to play the melodic lines (and variants) while the horns and bassoons were used like a brass section. Happily, Mantas conducts this with a light hand, so to speak, giving the music a nice rhythmic springiness throughout. He also takes the Adagio at a true adagio tempo, which is a  bit quicker than an Andante and certainly faster than a Largo, which is how many older conductors interpreted Mozart Adagios in general (think of Bruno Walter or Karl Böhm).

The Serenade K. 375, of which this is the first complete and corrected recording, had an odd history. Originally written for a sextet (two each of clarinets, bassoons and horns), Mozart expanded it to an octet the next year, adding two oboes and making some alterations to the score, particularly in the Finale where he added seven bars of recapitulation to the rondo’s main theme. But somehow, when the score was published, it omitted the second minuet. Even more curious, only the odd-numbered movements were found in manuscript form in Mozart’s own hand, the even-numbered ones being written by some unknown copyist, and in the 1950s musicologist Karl Haas discovered that bar 19 of the second minuet was faulty and “the score only makes sense when this bar is cut out.” This score also left out the second trio. Haas fixed both problems and recorded the corrected version of that minuet himself (in the sextet version), but did not live to record the complete serenade as amended.

But we’re talking about a less “serious” Mozart work here, not as complex as the other Serenade. Although it is well-crafted with some surprisingly sober-sounding themes and transpositions here and there, the winds play many more mundane scale passages which to my ears are merely functional and not really inspired. It is much more a piece designed for entertainment, although Mantas conducts it with energy and commitment.

The EU Chamber Orchestra Wind Octet plays with energy as well as a clean line with bright sonorities. All in all, a very fine disc.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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