Mozart Meets Marriner: Serenades (CD review)

Sir Neville Marriner, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.  Philips B0007075-02.

I'm going to make a guess here and say that Mozart's Serenade in G, K.525, "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," may be the most familiar music in the world.  OK, I'll grant you "Happy Birthday" and "Jingle Bells" are popular, too.  Certainly, the "Little Night Music" Serenade is one of Mozart's most familiar tunes.  Meaning it's been recorded by everyone everywhere, and you can find it done up by full modern orchestras, period bands, chamber ensembles, and probably singing reindeer.  But you won't find it done up any better than by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on this reissued Philips recording.

Marriner was never an extremist, so you'll find this performance pretty much middle-of-the-road, which is probably the way most of us want it.  There is always room for a new, invigorating reading by a new gung-ho group, but for a first choice in this repertoire, it's best to play it safe.  That would be Marriner, Boskovsky, and maybe I Musici.  Yes, Marriner and the Academy did the piece for EMI in an even more refined manner, but here he is as relaxed and joyful as he can be.  And accompanying the "Nachtmusik" are the Serenade in D, K.239, "Serenata notturna," and the Serenade in D, K.320, "Posthorn."  They are equally well played and well presented.

Given that this is a budget-priced collection, the sound is remarkably good.  The "Nachtmusik" has a tad more ambient bloom to it than the other two works, but it never distracts from the music.  If you are looking for ultimate sound reproduction, FIM has remastered the "Serenata notturna" in XRCD processing, and there you will find it even smoother, more transparent, and more dynamic.  But you'll also pay four times the price for it.  This Philips set is hard to beat, dollar for dollar.

The only minor cavil I would have is the Philips labeling.  First, on the back of the jewel box, they mark the four-movement "Nachtmusik" as 1-3, taking up with 5-7 for the "Serenata notturna."  What happened to #4?  Then, on the back of the booklet insert, they claim a production date of 1987 for the "Nachtmusik" and "Serenata," when clearly the "Serenata," at least, came from a 1967 Argo release.  Oh, well, it's the music that matters, not the fine print.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa