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Mozart: Gran Partita - Quatuor Dialogues / Demeyere

Mozart: Gran Partita - Quatuor Dialogues / Demeyere

Challenge Classics  CC 72697

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Mozart: Gran Partita arr. Schwenke; Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (‘Die Zauberflöte’)

Vinciane Baudhuin (oboe)
Ewald Demeyere (fortepiano)
Quatuor Dialogues


The Serenade in B flat major K.361/370a by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the so-called Gran Partita (this appellation is not the composer's), is inarguably one of the greatest works in the wind instrument repertoire. It adheres to the Viennese tradition of Harmoniemusik—music for wind ensembles intended to add lustre to aristocratic events and banquets—yet transcends the genre by its instrumentation (two basset-horns, two horns and a double bass were added to the traditional octet), its monumental proportions (seven movements) and the richness of its musical inventiveness.

The Gran Partita is inextricably linked with the figure of Anton Stadler, the Viennese clarinet virtuoso and member of the imperial Harmonie. He is presumed to have met Mozart when the latter arrived in Vienna in 1781. There is general agreement today that the Serenade K.361 was commissioned by Stadler. Furthermore, it was most probably Stadler who, during a concert tour through northern Europe in 1794, provided Schwencke with the score from which the latter subsequently made an arrangement, renaming it ‘Gran Quintetto’.

Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke (1767-1822), son of a Hamburg town musician, succeeded Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach as Stadtkantor and Musikdirector. He was renowned for his boundless admiration for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Schencke did not merely collect Mozart’s repertoire, but contributed actively to its dissemination. In order to reach as large a public as possible, he made, and had published, numerous arrangements of famous works by his idol. This practice was common and very popular among music lovers and amateurs. It allowed the revival of masterpieces in the private salons of the aristocracy and rising bourgeoisie, works that might otherwise have sunk into oblivion. Schwencke made a version for quintet with oboe of the Gran Partita.

In order to replace the thirteen instruments of the original version, Schwencke thus chose to combine two new complementary media emblematic of this period of chamber music: the fortepiano and the oboe quartet. Indeed, the second half of the 18th century saw the advent of new instruments alongside the emergence of new musical genres. The fortepiano differs from its predecessor, the harpsichord, in that it uses a mechanism of hammered instead of plucked strings, resulting in a greater dynamical range. The Classical oboe is characterized by an easier and more extended upper register and a sonority that can in turn be soft, light, clear or pungent. These expressive sound qualities, particularly adapted to the role given to the oboe in the emerging genre of the symphony, were also fully exploited in a new type of chamber music: the oboe quartet. Almost two hundred oboe quartets were composed in Europe between 1760 and 1800. Schwencke's arrangement is a masterpiece of orchestration, a rendering of the original score that is both faithful and richly colored. He did not merely transcribe the material from one instrument from the version for thirteen to another from the quintet. The melodic material has been ingeniously redistributed amongst the different parts, resulting in particularly varied sound combinations.

By way of an unequalled masterpiece of chamber music, this recording wants to restore a tradition and an art that we tend to neglect, if not despise, in the name of our search for authenticity: that of arrangement. Practiced by all great masters through the ages, and thus approved by them, it met the needs of a growing market of amateurs and dilettanti amongst the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Not only was it lucrative for the editors and arrangers, but it contributed to the popularity of the composers as well, both in their native countries and abroad. Moreover, it played a far from negligible social and educational role during the century of the Enlightenment which advocated human emancipation through knowledge, contact with nature, and the arts.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - March 21, 2016

Gottlieb Schwencke was an obscure eighteenth century composer born into a musical German family. He wrote a lot of music of which apparently much got lost. His ‘Grand Quintetto’, however seldom played, survived and enjoys in our time a modest revival. The World Premiere recording on Nuova Era dates from 1997 (Fortepiano Ensemble Bologna) and Malcolm Bilson recorded it in 2014 for Hungaroton.

What has Schwencke got to do with Mozart? In this particular case: Everything. Here we have the first recording of his ‘Grand Quintetto’ in Super Audio, which is a straight forward, yet skillful arrangement (and not: ‘based on’, as I read somewhere, although it contains an extra, third trio in the fourth movement, not available in the original) of Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in b flat major, KV 361/370a, better known by its popular nick name ‘Gran Partita’. Oboist, Vinciane Baudhuin, has done much research into the subject and explains in detail how it was transcribed. Suffice it to mention here that the crux of the matter is the judicious distribution of the scores of the original 13 players into 5 parts, of which the fortepiano takes the prime weight and the oboe many of the principal melodic lines, like the clarinet in the original.

We know Ewald Demeyere as an eminent harpsichordist. In this connection I may refer to his recording Tears (harpsichord laments from the 17th-Century) - Demeyere Challenge Classics CC 72617 (thereby fully endorsing John Miller’s balanced views on this recital) and Haydn: Harpsichord Concertos in F and G - Kuijken, Accent ACC 24188. In this present recording, however, he shows himself to be a competent fortepiano player as well. And for those who wonder about the difference, let me point out that both keyboard instruments distinguish themselves in that the harpsichord plucks the strings, whereas the fortepiano hammers them, having more possibilities to colour the sound, too.

The Quatuor Dialogue is a new ensemble, created in 2010 by Vinciane Baudhuin, pupil of Paul Dombrecht and a valuable member of the present (Flemish) Belgian Baroque scene, with a view to let audiences rediscover the immense repertoire for oboe and string trio written in the second half of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Since there are, unfortunately, no bio details of the participating artists, I may furthermore add that the other members are mostly active at the same scene: Annelies Decock, who studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels in the class of Sigiswald Kuijken, finishing her Master’s Degree program in early music with the highest result ever awarded for baroque violin; Mika Akiha from Japan, who took lessons from Sigiswald and Sara Kuijken, obtaining her viola diploma in 2006; and Ronan Kernoa, who studied violoncello at the ‘Conservatoire National de la Région de Rouen’, perfecting his play at the same ‘Conservatoire Royale de Bruxelles’ with yet another member of the same family: Wieland kuijken.

The common breeding ground of these players guarantees perfection in their musical team work. They ably set down a convincing, zesty performance that can favourably compete with the original, giving -as such- an honest impression of completeness, albeit with a different sound scape. Of course, the composer and the arranger are for a great deal involved in its success, but the ultimate ‘shining’ rendition is theirs.

Without being given further information, we must assume that all period instruments are copies. In her notes, Vinciane Baudhuin indicates that she plays a classical oboe with a narrower bore than her baroque sister, and with smaller holes, enabling to extend the upper register for a ‘sonority that can in turn be soft, light, clear or pungent’. Its somewhat nasal yet rounded tone is most of the time dominant and clearly distinguishable above the pianoforte and the strings, giving the overall sound a distinctly period character, which, on the whole, seems to be the general approach of the musicians: In Demeyere’s piano playing (most noticeable in the first movement) as well as the almost complete absence of vibrato in the strings. This may be incongruous with an arrangement dating from 1806, but it works out quite nicely.

While the present version does, in my view, not supplant the, due to the inclusion of a contrabass, warmer sounding original; and assuming that most music lovers may still prefer the thirteen players, we have here something that should at any rate be of great interest to those who want to broaden their view on and knowledge of arrangements which can withstand critical scrutiny. And, by the same token, it may well serve smaller chamber groups of variable composition (the oboe part is exchangeable with flute, clarinet and even a further violin) aspiring to venture into worthwhile, alternative repertoire. I would, therefore, wholeheartedly support the objective of the Quatuor Dialogues to complement the nowadays fashionable search for ‘forgotten composers of the past’, by surfacing and rehabilitating equally forgotten authentic and valuable arrangements.

As a bonus Vinciane Baudhuin takes her leave as 'Queen of the Night' in an arrangement for oboe and fortepiano quartet.

The 2015 (live?) recording made in the Academiezaal (Hall of the Academy) of Sint-Truiden (Saint-Trond) under Bert van der Wolf’s supervision by NorthStar Services, is of a quality level that lets nothing escape from the listener’s ear, save the audience noise, if there was any.

The booklet is less complete than could have been wished for in that it omits (apart from any back ground on the participating artists) a translation into another language than the provided English text for the benefit of a not to be neglected number of non-English speaking ‘melomanes’.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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