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Mozart: Serenades and Divertimenti - Tønnesen

Mozart: Serenades and Divertimenti - Tønnesen

BIS  BIS-2326

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Serenata Notturna, 3 Divertimenti for Strings, Adagio and Fugue in C minor

Camerata Nordica
Terje Tønnesen (director)


Up to and including Mozart, one important task for every composer not employed by the Church was to entertain. Much of Mozart’s best-loved music consists of occasional works intended for receptions and parties, balls and banquets, ceremonies and celebrations. These pieces are known to us under a number of different names: serenades, divertimenti, Nachtmusik and notturni are just some examples. In so far as these are genres, the distinctions between them are often blurred and many of them seem to have been used more or less interchangeably. But when the music is so fresh and immediate, labelling it becomes less important. In 1778, Leopold Mozart –who never missed an opportunity to impart his wisdom –wrote to his son describing what characterizes a successful piece: ‘Short, easy and popular… written in a natural, flowing and easy style –and at the same time bearing the marks of sound composition.

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Review by John Miller - October 5, 2017

Here are examples of a particularly delightful (but puzzling) category of Mozart's music. The un-named person 'BIS 2017' writes a brief but helpful booklet survey of Mozart's entertainment music during his residences first in Salzburg and finally in Vienna. The cross-naming of Mozart's lighter compositions is particularly puzzling. For example, his "Divertimenti" can contain as much serious artistic as lighthearted 'dancing'. And the original meaning of "serenade" is a love song sung by a young man below the window of his beloved, and Mozart used his operas for this context. But in Salzburg, during his youth, he used the term "serenade" when he composed an "ominum-gatherum" where his class walked in procession through the town - perhaps to the school Principal's house to celebrate the end of exams. For this, a small orchestra walked in front of the scholars, playing a March (with the double-bass playing from a dragged-along small cart!), then on arrival a melange of dances were played in a garden, town square or in front of the arch-bishop's palace. Mozart referred to the compositions he had written as "Finalmusik".

Terje Tønnesen is Camerata's Musical Director, and this new Mozart disc from Camerata Nordica has no arty title, just "Mozart, Serenata Notturna, Three Divertimenti and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", even omitting to say it is played by a string orchestra. The 15-20 members of Swedish-based 'Camerata Nordica' have already produced several superb BIS SACD discs featuring its string orchestra:
Anders Eliasson - Camerata Nordica, "Anders Eliasson"
Britten: Frank Bridge Variations etc - Terje Tønnesen, "Britten"
Tales of Sound and Fury - Terje Tønnesen, "Tones of Sound and Fury"
Visions Fugitives: Music for strings - Tønnesen, "Visions Fugitives"

These whetted my appetite for more. Camerata Nordica has no conductor, but gathers quite closely under the direction of Terje Tønnesen. Violins and violas players stand while playing (except for double bass and cellos of course); this promotes a combination of close communication and freedom of individual physical expressions within the string players.

Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K.546 begins the programme, from Vienna in 1788. It was composed at the same time as Mozart's last three symphonies, where the last one concludes with an elaborate fugue in C major. Mozart transcribed the fugue in this work from the two-piano fugue, K426. To it he added a short Adagio introduction in dotted rhythms, "angular outbursts alternate with an unearthly hush; its suggestions of violence and mysticism make the ensuing geometry seem a relief" as writer and pianist R.D. Levin wrote aptly. Yes, this isn't one of Mozart's light-hearted compositions, but the ideal curtain-raiser for a BIS programme of music for strings by Mozart. Camerata Nordica (CN) play with superbly arranged outbursts of stark anger and utter grief, sinking to silence between. Such an intense Adagio is just as Levin wanted, following then with intense playing of the fugue's colourful interactions between each of the string parts.

Now entering the entertainment pieces, we have another Viennese one; Serenade in G Major, K.525, 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik' (a short notturno) - one of the world's most favourite piece of Classical Music. The C18th nocturne was essentially an instrumental serenade in several movements. Mozart's began as a 5-movement work, but soon the second Minuet was removed. After, the formal balance of the work seems so exquisite that one might restore the first Minuet if it were found. As to the instruments, in Mozart's manuscript the bass line is allotted to "violincello e contrabasso" which would imply a small string orchestra, but nowadays we usually hear it in quartet.

Without doubt, Tønnesen and his Camerata Nordica make the best Serenade in G major I have ever heard. A bold attention-demanding statement sets the well-known Allegro on its cheerful way. The Romance is just that; in 4 sections; each subtly changing its dynamics and subtle timing to make different characters. The Menuetto is courtly and aristocratic but notably faster than in many other recordings, and its trio is Ländler-like and flowing, but unusually has several lines played by a country-side Swedish nyckelharpa ('keyed fiddle'), which adds some touches of playful sounds - after all, it is just another stringed instrument bringing a glance at the countryside. The final Rondo is full of real energy, with sudden precise attacks beginning every one of new sections. Tremendous!

K.239 Serenade in D major, "Serenata Notturna" (timpani, strings with 2 violins, viola and double bass soli) comes from Salzburg in 1776, probably for a carnival. The work's special colour derives at least part from the kettledrum. CN provide a delightfully pompous Maestoso 2/4 with subtleties of rhythm and orchestration outside the realm of the normal march, and even some bird commentating via chirpy trills on the violins. The minuet, still happily stately, uses short-long rhythms known as the 'Scotch snap', but the trio is more sedate as if by the artful soloists alone. A 2/4 Finale, marked "Rondeau: Allegretto" is a high--spirited country dance, cheekily decked out with grace notes. There are other episodes, including an Adagio which CN plays as mock-pathetic, with a sort of quick-step march; the nyckelharpa has another few things to say, and a outburst of pizzicatos slides into the closing blaze of martial gaiety - based on the "quick-step"!

The last three Divertimenti (K.136 in D, K.137 & K.138 from Salzburg 1772) on this disc have enjoyed equal popularity as either string quartet or string orchestra. However, from historical evidence, Mozart probably thought of them as one player per part, and likely by a 'divertimento quart' (2 violins, viola and double bass). Terje Tønnesen, not surprisingly, gives the full string orchestra a chance to exercise their skills in joyful rhythms, bringing melodic strands forward in contrapuntal sequels. For the final rondo (the "buffonesque" finales), labelled "Presto" (K. 136), "Allegro assai" (K. 137), and "Presto" K.138, all run as fast as you will ever hear in Mozart, with snappy attacks which are sometimes startling, always exciting and very funny.

In a musical venture such as this, the recording has to support and encourage the zest, vitality and sheer physicality of this SACD capture.
Camerata's selected recording venue is the Swedish church Algutsrum kyrka in Öland, on an attractive Baltic Sea island, with a bridge to the Swedish mainland. Uli Schneider is producer and sound engineer and he presents remarkable depth and clarity, both of which are necessary to avoid that greyish homogeneity sometimes found in recording strings. 5.0 mode offers a fine balance between focussed detail and overall sound, supported by a non-intrusive church acoustic. Given that there are only a few cellos, and one double bass, the amount of deep notes from the orchestra is amazing, and at time, exciting when the drum comes forth alone. Recorded in 24-bit/96 kHz in 5.0, this is one of the best BIS recordings without doubt.

The musicianship of Tønnesen and Camerata Nordica ensure that the vibrant presence of Mozart's personality imbues every moment of this disc. I had a little disturbance about the use of the nyckelharpa because of the shock of hearing a different instrument; but the fun of this quickly added to the piece. After all, Mozart's raucous habits suggest he would be happy to make jokes with his performances.

I highly recommend this and now I am going away to listen to it for the nth time...

Copyright © 2017 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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