Lovely Music, Lovely Performances
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/05/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There are those for whom the music of Mozart is a kind of classical wallpaper, the kind of music one doesn't really listen to but is pleasant to have on in the background. And I do understand that attitude; the music is so smoothly perfect that it may not grab one's attention. The principal selection on this disc, the Oboe Quartet, really does bear listening to closely. It's a marvel of construction while at the same time having both earthy and unearthly beauty. In the last movement, for instance, there is that place where the oboe switches to 4/4 while the strings continue 6/8, an inspired move by Mozart that our modern ears may not catch, since it has since become a fairly common practice (think of Schumann and Brahms). Quite an innovator, that Wolfi. And then there is the final note of the piece, the oboe's pianissimo high F, almost impossible to play on the oboes of Mozart's day and no cakewalk for modern oboists either. In the wrong hands (and embouchure) it becomes a shriek or a squawk. I must say that this CD's featured oboist, Joris van den Hauwe, does it as beautifully as I've ever heard it. Ah!!The other pieces here are oddities of a sort. The Adagio in C Major for English horn, two violins and cello was never finished by Mozart. It has had various completions and I'm not sure whose this one is. Probably the most notable thing about the piece itself is its principal theme being so close to that of Mozart's famous choral 'Ave Verum Corpus.' The theme's first seven notes are precisely those of the 'Ave Verum,' although in a slightly different rhythm. A lovely piece, played serenely and beautifully by van den Hauwe and his colleagues. The 'Oboe Quintet in C minor, K. 406a' has a strange history. It started out as a wind serenade, then was re-composed as the C-minor string quintet. This version is the string quintet with oboe playing the first violin part. If you're familiar with the two earlier versions, it reminds one at times of the serenade and at others of the quintet. Odd, but also oddly effective. Whatever its form, this piece retains its original purpose of being a light entertainment. Indeed, apropos my initial statement, it may indeed have been intended originally as background music. Still there is art in this light music, as in the minuet which is a canon whose middle section is the canon inverted.Odder yet is the final piece on the disc, the 'Adagio and Rondo for glass armonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello, K. 617.' Remember how we used to, as kids, rub a moistened finger around the rim of a water goblet to produce an ethereal musical tone? That's the principle involved in the production of sound in the glass armonica, an instrument that had evolved to include a keyboard mechanism so that chords can be produced. The instrument had a short-lived popularity in Mozart's day and he wrote several pieces for it. This two-movement piece is notable for the spectral beauty of both the timbre of the armonica and of the themes Mozart wrote for it. Van den Lauwe's able colleagues on this disc include glass armonica player Dennis James, flutist Marc Grauwels (who has also recorded the Mozart Flute, and Flute and Harp concerti on Naxos), and string players of the Salzburg Soloists. TT=59:14Scott Morrison"