Surprised by his first exposure to Mozart's glorious Serenade for 13 Winds, Antonio Salieri – in Peter Shaffer's play, Amadeus – expresses his relief upon discovering just how empty some of the young composer's other works could be. The Serenade, he concluded, was "the sort of accident which might visit any composer on a lucky day!"
"Empty" is a fairly accurate description of the music on this Denon disc. In fact, I find Divertimento 7 downright annoying. It sounds for all the world like a 37-minute sonata for violin with chamber orchestra accompaniment. No doubt Mozart wrote the work to showcase his own abilities on the instrument's upper register. However the monotonous whining of the first violin writing wears thin before ten minutes have elapsed.
The Wiener Kammerensemble is certainly competent, as one would expect from a group consisting of members of the Vienna Philharmonic. Unfortunately, their interpretation of Divertimento 7 is hardly the last word in either wit or style. For these elements, not to mention the sheer joy of music-making, the recording by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble on Philips 422504 is not to be missed. The Vienna group seems tired and lifeless in comparison to the British band, especially in the jaunty finale and the sparkling second minuet.
The Wiener Kammerensemble's generally humorless approach is an even greater handicap in the lively Divertimento 10. What should be entertaining comes across as passionless and uninvolved. Again, the Academy's Chamber Ensemble shines here with their unbeatable combination of crisp accents, playfulness, and lyrical phrasing. Where Gerhart Hetzel's first violin is strident and thin, the Academy's Kenneth Sillito is warm and charming. To make matters worse, Denon's recorded sound is both distant and unfocussed.
Avoid this one!
Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide