Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik (CD review)

Also, Divertimento in D; others. Anton Steck, Concerto Koln. Archiv 00289 477 5800.

Over the past quarter century or more, I have come to respect and in some cases love the performances of period-instruments bands. But it does seem to me that they can sometimes put such a stress on what they consider authenticity, they lose sight of the fundamental warmth of a piece. Thus it is with some of the work I've heard from Concerto Koln.

The members of the ensemble play with vigor and enthusiasm, and they appear to play flawlessly. Yet too often on this album of short, diverse Mozart works, they seem to be racing Europa Galante to the finish line. The playing is stimulating, sometimes heart pounding with excitement, while at the same time draining the music of much of its charm. OK, perhaps one has to give up sometime to gain something else, and certainly at the pace Concerto Koln perform these works they set themselves apart from most others. But it doesn't mean everyone has to like it.

Things begin with the overture to Mozart's opera Die Zauberflote, and it's here, right at the start, that we notice the direction the musicians are taking. They are clearly going for an adrenaline rush and, I believe, they are missing Mozart's innate charisma. For instance, The Magic Flute is just that, a magical journey filled with an assortment of fascinating enchantments, yet Concerto Koln play it at something more like a concerto rock: Big, long pauses, enormous dynamic contrasts, and breathtaking tempos. The proceedings slow down a bit with excerpts from Le Petits Riens and the Adagio from the Serenade in B flat major, but then it's off to the races again in the Divertimento in D major. The overture to Der Schauspieldirektor has the effect of a blockbuster, and Eine kleine Nachtmusik seems purposely aimed at being anything but than traditional.

I suppose one can say these performances make people listen to the music with new ears (note the album cover), but, then, that isn't always what people want in their Mozart.

While it is easy for me to nitpick the interpretations, I can hardly fault the sound. It is natural, well balanced, and generally clean and clear, with a nice sense of breadth and depth for a group of musicians less than twenty strong. It is only when comparing the Divertimento in D to Marriner's old account remastered on an FIM XRCD that one notices that maybe the new digital recording could be a tad more open and transparent. The FIM will knock you over, and Marriner's reading is every bit as spirited and lively as Concerto Koln's, yet at the same time it is elegant and refined. So, yes, other folks have shown they can do it.


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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