Michi Gaigg, L’Orfeo Barockorchester. CPO 999 942-2.
The son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so obviously overshadowed the father, Leopold (1719-1787), that a person hardly recognizes anything by the father anymore, except maybe the occasional recording of the “Toy Symphony.” This CPO album aims to remedy that situation at least a bit by offering up four of the elder Mozart’s symphonic compositions other than the “Toy Symphony.” The results show us a far less-stern taskmaster than the grim-faced character we all met in the movie Amadeus.
Apparently, writing whenever he could to support his family, Leopold Mozart indulged himself often in the then-emerging popular style of “program music.” Proper Viennese musical circles didn’t always consider such music to be of the highest caliber, but its simplicity appealed to the masses, and the older Mozart found much favor with it.
The Sinfonia di cassia or “Hunting Symphony” brings with it a range of hunting calls, barking dogs, and simulated gunshots. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concertos come to mind. The Divertimento in D major or “The Peasant Wedding” uses a hurdy-gurdy, a bagpipe, and various vocal yelps from the musicians to recreate a riotous wedding scene. It’s a hoot. The Sinfonia burlesca presents four pieces based on representative eighteenth-century comedic types. And the New Lambach Symphony describes a journey through Western Europe. The designation New distinguishes the work from the Lambach Symphony written by Mozart’s then ten-year-old son the year before.
All four works display a mature if simple technique, with the Lambach being the more serious of the lot and the others somewhat frivolous fun. Conductor Michi Gaigg and the baroque-instrument orchestra L’Orfeo Barockorchester have a good time with music, and Ms. Gaigg directs with an exuberant touch. It’s quite a charming disc, actually, if a little lightweight.
CPO’s sound is quite good, too, not only natural in its tonal balance but conveying an excellent sense of orchestral depth. Unlike many recordings that are so close up or multi-miked as to seem flat and lifeless, this recording actually has listeners believing that an orchestra might be sitting in front of them. Although the L’Orfeo Barockorchester has only about twenty-eight period-instrument players in its company, they do sound most lifelike in tone and position and produce a bigger sound than their numbers might indicate.
I doubt this music will disappoint anyone, especially considering the varied assortment of works on the disc, their fine, exuberant performances, and the high quality of the sound. Not a bad deal.
To listen to a couple of brief excerpts from this album, click here: