Serenade in B flat for 13 wind instruments, K361 (Gran Partita)
Serenade in C minor, K388
Chamber Soloists of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [John Anderson & Timothy Watts (oboes), Donald Mitchell, Thomas Watmough, Rachel Brown & Alan Andrews (clarinets & basset horns), Daniel Jemison & Helen Simons (bassoons), David Chatterton (contrabassoon) and Martin Owen, Kathryn Saunders, Andrew Fletcher & Philip Woods (horns)]
Recorded 21 August 2007 in Cadogan Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: NAIM CLASSICAL CD117
Duration: 71 minutes
For some reason the dark and turbulent C minor Serenade turns up rather more often than does its E flat counterpart (K375); a pity for the latter is an agreeable and sunny piece that would have been well-suited to this particular octet of musicians who take a rather too civilised approach to the C minor’s opening movement, shapely and well-balanced though it is. Nevertheless the playing is full of character and musical excellence; it’s simply that such bonhomie would have suited better the E flat piece, and the moderate tempo for the opening movement – articulate to a fault – further reduces the drama. Yet, the following Andante is beguiling indeed and the Minuet in canone has an acerbity that would have been welcome earlier. The Variations of the finale are vividly contrasted and a particular highlight.
The large-scale, 7-movement ‘Gran Partita’, unfortunately without the double bass – there is a case for having this and the contrabassoon – receives a suitably expansive performance, all repeats observed, and is notable for the poise and expressiveness of the musicians’ approach. The first movement – slow introduction and allegro – is ideally paced in its moderation with full value given to grace notes and has a feeling of absolute rightness about it. Such good judgement informs the remaining six movements, whether it’s the grandeur of the minuets or the sublime slow movements. The penultimate movement, a Theme and Variations, is deliciously demarcated, and the finale is a joyous scamper.
One can cite a couple of ‘historic’ recordings of K361 that have greater insights and timbral distinction – namely those conducted by Ansermet (Suisse Romande Orchestra) and Furtwängler (Vienna Philharmonic) – but this non-conducted account (which is very much music-making between friends) is superbly determined by all concerned. Indeed, amongst ‘modern’ versions of this work – allowing that the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra might one day issue its version that has long been gathering dust (it does exist because I listened to it when writing the booklet note!) – I cannot immediately think of an account of this extensive work that fits the bill as handsomely as this one from the RPO.
Although recorded live, there is little sense of an audience, and certainly no applause; and the recorded sound is as first-class as one would expect from an audiophile-related label.