Serenade in G, K525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
Divertimento in D, K334
Divertimento in D, K251
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
NBC Symphony Orchestra
K525 and K334 recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago on 4 December 1954 (K525) and 26 April 1955; K251 recorded in Manhattan Center, New York City on 21 & 22 September 1954
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT 1379
Duration: 80 minutes
Every twist and turn of this music is meticulously plotted, the balance is impeccable and the expression is articulated to a finite degree, so too the music’s vertical construction. Yet, however perfectionist Reiner’s demands, there is no lack of grace, elegance and high spirits. Nothing frivolous though: this is light music played seriously with every note in place.
The popular ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ may be shorn of repeats, as all the movements here are, but the rigour, unaffected phrasing and sheer discipline of the playing bring their own rewards. The Minuet is decidedly stately and the Trio is wonderfully sweet.
This is how the music used to be played – with a symphony orchestra’s full personnel of strings, the use of vibrato, and with a satisfying weight. Yet Reiner also conjures a lean and muscular sound, the emphasis is on clarity; rhythms are buoyant and melodies are always shapely without being pulled about.
In short, this release documents impeccable musical manners – the style remains the composer’s, and there’s a more serious, darker seam unearthed in K334 than might be supposed in music entitled Divertimento. But the emphasis is on entertainment, in the best sense, as the insouciant first Minuet and the radiance of the following Adagio very happily demonstrate.
K251 mixes exuberance and elegance, and Reiner is alive to both; the orchestra here is Toscanini’s NBC, which plays with an attractive mouldable profile, if with the same rhythmic acumen that distinguishes the Chicago recordings. The solo oboe cuts through the texture with glee and there are also some vibrant violin solos.
If Reiner is parsimonious with repeats, then for a single sitting of 80 minutes of Mozart in light, even inconsequential mode, then it is better to have variety than repetition. The standards set here by Reiner, realised with dedication by the musicians, are a pleasure in themselves; ultimately, it’s not about ego but about concern for the music, which is served here with the utmost distinction.
These performances that impress immediately and which grow in stature are recorded in excellent mono sound that is well re-mastered. What is preserved is, in many ways, an object lesson in how to perform this music. On another level, given the dictatorial reputation that Reiner has – in his booklet note Mortimer H. Frank says unequivocally that “It is quite possible, at least among the musicians he led, that Reiner was the most intensely disliked conductor of his time” – these players seem willingly in accord with their conductor.