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Mozart: Complete Divertimentos

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik-complete Divert
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 1172219   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K 525. Divertimento in D, K 136. Divertimento in Bb, K 137. Divertimento in F, K 138. Serenata Notturna, K 239. String Quintet in Bb, K 174 Marcello Di Lisa (fp, cond); Concerto de’ Cavalieri Read more SONY 88765417272 (2 CDs: 112:09)

Eine kleine Nachtmusik is one of Mozart’s most iconic pieces. I first heard it in Eugene Ormandy’s recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. That was a template for the way we were accustomed to hearing this work, with a gorgeous blend of the string choirs and a fruity vibrato. Now along come Marcello Di Lisa and his Concerto de’ Cavalieri to tell us we have to listen to this serenade completely differently. It’s not just the use of period instruments that matters. Roy Goodman and The Hanover Band recorded it in 1989 with period strings and harpsichord continuo in a basically symphonic version that sounds tame next to Di Lisa’s, as Goodman still adheres to much of the aesthetic that informed Ormandy. Nor is Di Lisa’s claim to fame simply that he gives each part to a solo instrument. The Budapest String Quartet with bassist Julius Levine did that to lovely effect in 1959. But Marcello Di Lisa really has rethought completely the way Eine kleine Nachtmusik ought to sound. The opening Allegro, at a very fast tempo, is exciting yet definitely elegant, benefiting in style from the strings’ pure tone. In the Romance, the blend of the solo instruments is more appealing than that of an orchestra, while the addition of a period guitar to the fortepiano in the continuo is a striking effect. At times, the Romance even sounds ominous—something those old, sugary sweet renditions never achieved. The Trio in the third movement feels like dance music. A quick, crisp, and clear approach to the Rondo yields a breathless feeling with real punch. Once you’ve heard Marcello Di Lisa’s rendition several times, much of the performance tradition of this serenade no longer makes sense.

Di Lisa’s approach is revitalizing throughout his album. All the works are performed with one instrument to a part, plus fortepiano and guitar continuo. Di Lisa’s take on the divertimentos, K 136-8, is not as radical as his version of Eine kleine Nachtmusik , but it is just as refreshing. The first movement of K 136 is still melodious but with added bite. The slow movement is dreamy, with the guitar adding greatly to the sense of intimacy. The work concludes with a real Presto , featuring folk inspired fiddling. K 137 opens with a chamber music feel, including a splendid play of light and shade. The middle movement is like a treadmill you can’t get off of, while the last sounds like an Austrian folk song. K 138’s Allegro seems symphonic in nature. Its Andante sports a long, romantic melodic line, with the guitar adding greatly to the effect. Raymond Leppard wrote, “Shortwindedness is the prime characteristic of the second-rate eighteenth-century composer.” This Andante is a Mozartian breathing lesson. In the concluding Presto , the strings produce a kaleidoscope of colors. The Serenata Notturna begins with a quick, almost danceable march. In the next movement, the Trio features fabulous violin playing. Di Lisa produces hip rhythms in the concluding Rondeau, accentuated by the fortepiano and guitar. Concezio Panone has supplied savvy cadenzas, with a great part for the timpanist. Splendid as this performance is, I still have a soft spot for Isaac Stern’s recording, playing with and conducting the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra.

The String Quintet, K 174, ordinarily is performed by a quartet with a guest violist. Di Lisa takes the point of view that, at the time of its composition in 1773, a quintet did not refer yet to a self-contained chamber work. Rather, quintets fell under the general term of divertimentos. Hence, Di Lisa performs K 174 with the addition of a double bass and continuo. The effect is very pleasing. In the opening movement, the continuo adds greatly to the spaciousness of texture. Cellist Giovanna Barbati offers beautiful solos. The Adagio takes the form of a conversation between the string players. The third movement’s Menuetto possesses a symphonic feel. In its structure and style, the concluding Allegro prefigures the final movement of the “Jupiter” Symphony. With Di Lisa’s touch, K 174 takes on the stature of a large scale work. The Budapest Quartet, with violist Walter Trampler, recorded a splendidly outgoing monaural account of the quintet in 1956, but Di Lisa’s version is even more vigorous. He includes renditions of Mozart’s original, less elaborate versions of the Trio and the Allegro for comparison. The sound engineering throughout the album is very close up, but it is decently balanced and does much to reveal the players’ finesse. No information is given on the provenance of the instruments played, which is unfortunate. Di Lisa’s Mozart may shock you at first, but his interpretations are brilliant and insightful. I think these are recordings which will stand the test of time very well. Mozart is such a genius that, as Di Lisa shows, we still might be just getting to know him.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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