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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

  • Serenade in D Major "Posthorn", K. 320
  • Symphony #35 in D Major "Haffner", K. 385
  • March #1 in D Major, K. 335
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Sony Classical 88883-72068-2
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Harnoncourt is rarely routine. As he nears the midway point of his 80s, he continues to be a pioneer, a divisive figure in his field, and widely sought after for both. Mozart seems to be his newest "thing" and as always, he is full of ideas. In his Concentus Musicus Wien, he has an ensemble willing to indulge them, which they have now done for 61 years. My opinion is still unclear regarding the set of last symphonies (as of this writing; I will review that set) also on Sony, but my feelings on the current program are mostly positive.

The March #1 raises the curtain and illustrates the unique timbre of this ensemble. Harnoncourt has always favored a brash brass tone, and the horns and trumpets are both elegant and forceful. The period strings sound full and do not lack polish. Period wind playing doesn't tend to bother me; it doesn't here. Execution is very clean, and blend is admirable. The approach is incisive, yet never mechanical. If you hate period practice, this won't exactly change your mind, but most listeners will surely appreciate the Classical poise combined with real insight from the podium. Tempos are entirely reasonable, with nothing rushed or blurred. In the Posthorn, there is some wonderfully playful wind articulation, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Listen to the warm strings supporting the soloists, and the way that Harnoncourt keeps the music flowing without ever resorting to cheap tricks (this is not always a safe bet with him). Rather, this is just what it should be, great Mozart in some excellent sound.

In the Haffner, we find more of the conductor's ideas than previously. Some work, some don't. For example, I take no issue with the thrilling opening, save for some slightly exaggerated rests. Aside from that, the first movement is largely excellent. This symphony can sound awful on period instruments, but the level of commitment and artistry here convinces even me. The last three movements also hold occasional moments where a brow could be raised, and maybe a few sections feel somewhat mannered. The music lurches about in places, but overall the interpretation is very solid. Taken as a whole, this is an engaging program that obviously shows a great deal of care and thought. I can recommend this with very few reservations.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman