Mozart: Divertimento in E flat major (CD review)

Also, String Trio in G major, K. 562e. Henning Kraggerud, violin; Lars Anders Tomter, viola; Christoph Richter, cello. Naxos 8.572258.

My Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines a divertimento as "an instrumental composition in several movements, light and diverting in character, similar to a serenade. Also called a divertissement." My Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music goes on to say it "applied in the second half of the 18th century, especially in Austria, to an enormous variety of nonorchestral, instrumental works. These include lighter types, such as the cassation, serenade, and notturno, as well as more serious types of chamber music, such as the string quartet." Or, in the case of the String Trio in E flat major, K. 563, by Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), well, a trio.

Interestingly, it was the only string trio Mozart would complete, writing it in 1788, the same year he finished his last three symphonies and only a few years before his death. So, it's one of the composer's very late and, thus, most mature works. Indeed, some critics consider the six-movement piece among his best compositions. Here, the Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud and Norwegian violist Lars Anders Tomter (both playing on period instruments) join German cellist Christoph Richter to produce a worthy addition to a small but growing list of fine recordings of the work.

The three performers Naxos assembled on the disc play with distinction, as we might expect, and provide a pretty good rendition of Mozart's music, their tempos neither too fast nor too slow but about right for a traditional reading of the score. The Trio begins with an Allegro, played with spirit and bite. The performers take the principal theme, one of Mozart's typically beautiful melodies, at a pleasingly moderate gait that makes it melt in the air. Then, because they do not play the opening movement excessively fast, the lovely Adagio that follows is not so jarring a contrast as it might be but flows naturally from everything that went before. The players handle it lightly and poetically.

After the Adagio we get the first of two minuets, a fairly energetic affair with a folklike character. In the center of things we find an Andante consisting of a series of variations, the players doing an adequate job distinguishing among them. Next, we're back to a minuet, only this time it is more stately and elegant, yet delightfully played, with appropriate grace and panache. The Rondo: Allegro that ends the work continues the cheerful temper of the previous segment, again flowing lyrically and heartily along.

Kraggerud, Tomter, and Richter provide a charming reading of the piece all the way around, one that compares favorably to a couple of my own favorites in the work: Grumiaux, Janzer, and Szabo on a Philips Duo set and Kremer, Ma, and Kashkashian on a Sony disc. The "however" is that if you already own one or both of the older recordings, I wouldn't consider the newcomer any better, and, indeed, the older recordings may actually possess a degree more authority and conviction. Still, it's all a value judgment, and if you don't already own the music, any of the releases make respectable choices.

As a brief fill-up, Naxos also provide the String Trio in G major, K. 562e, a single-movement fragment that Mozart wrote shortly before K. 563 and maybe a stepping stone to the better piece.  Why he never finished K. 562e is anybody's guess. Nevertheless, it exhibits in its few minutes duration the kind of musical moods to come, a Trio in miniature.

One can hardly fault the sound. Recorded in Lindemannsalen, Musikkhogskole Oslo, Norway, in 2008, it's big and bold, or as big and bold as a recording of three performers can be. Miked at fairly close range, it spreads the three instruments across the sound stage and captures each of them vividly, yet without brightness or harshness. They sound quite natural, in fact, with just a touch of hall bloom to smooth out the response. In addition, we get a good dynamic response from the players, with more than adequate transient response. While there may not be quite the sense of intimacy from the performers at so close range, making them appear perhaps a little larger than if they were in a hall and we were listening to them, it's a trifling complaint in an otherwise fine recording.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa