Helmut Muller-Bruhl, Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Naxos 8.570990.
Mozart wrote a ton of divertimenti (well, several dozen at least), light music intended largely as background entertainment for social gatherings--dinners, parties, and the like--for families that could afford them. The two we find here, Nos. 11 and 17, are fairly prominent examples of the genre, conducted by the late Helmut Muller-Bruhl and his Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Maestro Muller-Bruhl died just a few months after making the recording, so it’s something of a swan song for him. He went out in style.
The Divertimento No. 11 in D major, K. 251, begins the program. Mozart wrote it in 1776, probably for the name-day of his sister Nannerl. It’s a relatively small work in six movements, scored for an oboe, a pair of horns, two violins, viola, double bass, and strings; and it’s filled with the usual series of charming melodies we would expect from the young composer. Muller-Bruhl provides a warm, sunny, yet highly refined interpretation of the music. This is old-school Mozart, not your slingshot period-instruments presentation.
Nevertheless, this is not to suggest there is anything staid or stodgy about the performance. It is chipper, outgoing, and thoroughly delightful. After giving us a frothy opening Allegro, Muller-Bruhl offers up the first of two highly polished minuets. Between them we find a particularly graceful Andantino in a flowing dotted rhythm. The piece concludes with a spirited Rondeau and a march in the French manner.
Mozart composed the Divertimento No. 17 in D major, K. 334, in 1780 for the university graduation of a wealthy family friend. The piece is almost twice the length of No. 11 and displays a degree of maturity and invention somewhat lacking in the earlier work. Again, Muller-Bruhl gives us a gracious, friendly, cultivated reading, with an especially felicitous pair of Menuettos, things we would expect of dinner music. However, this is not merely background music; no Mozart could be. These well-developed musical arrangements verge on symphonies; in fact, you might even consider them overdeveloped symphonies, with their six-movement design. Whatever you call them, they’re quite entertaining in Muller-Bruhl’s capable hands.
So, what Muller-Bruhl gives us are cultured, what some people might call sedate Mozart interpretations, old-school Mozart you could say, with accomplished playing from the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. To add another plus to the affair, the total disc time is over seventy-three minutes, something we don’t always find in this age of frugal recordings. Anyway, if some of today’s more frenetic performances tire you, Muller-Bruhl’s more gentle approach may be right up your alley.
Naxos recorded the music at the Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany, in September of 2011. Typical of so many Naxos products, the sound is warm and full, with a slightly soft, veiled midrange and a slightly limited frequency and dynamic range. Still, these qualities are not severe and may be just what the music needs; they provide an easygoing atmosphere for Muller-Bruhl’s easygoing style. The moderately close-up miking allows for a big sound, too, very wide and acceptably deep.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: