INKPOT#56 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: MOZART The Wind Concertos. Various soloists/AAM/Hogwood (Decca/L’Oiseau Lyre)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Wind Concertos
Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, K191/186e
Flute and Harp Concerto in C major, K299/297c
Flute Concerto No.1 in G major, K313/285c
Andante for Flute and Orchestra in C major, K315/285e Oboe Concerto in C major, K314/285d
(Basset) Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622
Horn Concertos in E-flat, K412, 417, 447, 495
Rondeaux for Horn, K 371 and 514
For more details, please see the horn concertos
LISA BEZNOSIUK flute FRANCES KELLY harp
ANTONY PAY basset clarinet MICHEL PIGUET oboe
DANNY BOND bassoon ANTHONY HALSTEAD horn
The Academy of Ancient Music directed by Christopher Hogwood
Yes, everybody’s on period instruments
Each disc is available separately at full-price on 417 622-2,
414 339-2 and 443 216-2 (in the order listed above).
DECCA/LOISEAU LYRE 460 027-2
3 discs [47:01+74:54+61:02] mid-price
by Chia Han-Leon
You have to be really cruel to not like these concertos. Granted that in most cases, they are not meant to stir your passions or make you cry, these works represent Mozart (left) at his most cheerful, delightful and carefree (even if in reality he wasn’t). This is music that is simply happy. It does not ask you to be miserable, patient or intellectual – it simply wants you to enjoy.
Almost all players of these instruments have probably tried their hands (and maybe eleven or twelve fingers) at playing these concertos. If they are like me, they will tell you these concertos are pure fun, even when you foul up the notes! In this way, these pieces are particularly rewarding. They do not look that difficult on the page, but they are in their own ways. Like smart friends who challenge you, even if you only manage the first page of notes, they’ll still smile at you rewardingly and tempt you to try page 2.
These recordings are fairly old: the clarinet-oboe recordings were done in 1984, the flute-harp-bassoon in 1986/7, and the horn concertos in 1993. I am particularly fond of the first disc of the clarinet and oboe concertos – because I grew up on them. I still have the original CD and am happy to report that all the original notes for these discs, including the photos (see below), have been retained. The only thing that has changed is the covers (the new packaging is the usual give-it-a-new-cover-and-sell-it-as-something-new idea), which have become simpler (or involves less work). And of course, the price has dropped to mid, though you are of course “encouraged” to buy all three. The original CDs are still available at full price.
Mozart is well-known to have hated the flute – which is really odd because it is a delightful instrument with a fairy-flighty voice: why should a composer of the Classical/Rococo period, favouring pleasure as the chief end of art, hate it? In addition, Mozart, going by his flute works (concertos and quartets), wrote very well for it.
The Flute Concerto No.1 in G major, K313/285c was written in 1778 on a commission. It begins with a bold Allegro maestoso (as “maestoso” as a flute can get then), followed by a perfumed Adagio and then a menuet-ish Rondo which develops and blossoms, ending a little wink of an oboe trill. Other versions of this concerto I have heard can be rather ungraceful, following the notes rigidly. The Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) imbues this performance with much spirit and gaiety. Remember we are no longer in the potentially chugga-chugging Baroque period – here is period performance which is not harsh on the ear, but also not too clean and sterilized as some modern performances can be.
The “Old World” sound of authentic instruments has its own (perhaps sentimental, nostalgic) imperfect beauty. Wouldn’t you rather hear a wooden flute rather than a metal flute? I would. How pastoral and sylvan is the sound of Lisa Beznosiuk’s instrument! She is one of the best in the business, and in the 80s, she was possibly the most accomplished of the period flute school (many have caught up since).
If you liked her there, you will even more in the gorgeous Flute and Harp Concerto in C major, K299/297c – an almost sinfully sweet combination. And yet, I think Mozart pulls off this beautiful work with much elegance, disciplined indulgence but also simplicity, like the 5-minute Andante in C for Flute and Orchestra, K315/285e (?1778). Both were written in 1778, and the Andante is thought to be a possible alternative slow movement for Flute Concerto No.1. Beznosiuk and the harpist Frances Kelly (right) perform with moving intimacy and innocent grace. The heavenly Andantino is just so… beautiful. The serenity of the work is brought across immediately, its evening contentment utterly peaceful. Kelly, by the way, plays on a single-action pedal harp from around 1800 (yes, nearly two centuries old; not a copy). As she remarks in the notes on the instruments, the harp is perfectly balanced with the flute.
The Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, K191/181e is perfectly summed up in the notes: “[it] illustrates to perfection one fascinating technical aspect of Mozart’s creativity: his ability to think himself into the character of a particular voice or isn’trument and to allow the music to arise out of the nature of the means to hand” (John Arthur). Danny Bond plays on a copy of an original instrument by Heinrich Grenser of Dresden, with ten keys. “It is interesting to find that many technical hurdles encountered when eighteen-century music is played on a modern instrument are eliminated if a period instrument is used” he writes. Well, even if these technicalities (which should never hinder the music’s music) don’t mean a thing to you, the Bassoon Concerto is another bubbly work of art, even though it is the one I pay the least attention to.
The ones I pay the most attention to are the Clarinet Concerto and the Oboe Concerto. Now, this particular recording of the Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 is not in fact the Clarinet Concerto as we know it nowadays. Or to be more accurate, Mozart did not really composed a concerto for clarinet. Rather, the final work is an arrangement of the original concerto for a basset clarinet (right) whose range extended to low C (sounding A in the lowest space of the bass clef(!). The Clarinet Concerto as we hear it today is in fact an arrangement of this Basset Clarinet Concerto. The fellow who did it is unknown, and the work was published as a Concerto for Clarinet in A ten years after Mozart’s death (it was written in his final year of life). Because of the lower range of the basset clarinet, the new arrangement had low passages transposed up, and others re-shaped to avoid the lowest of the low notes.
And these modified passages you can now hear here! The basset clarinet used here was constructed in 1984, and it is a wonderful instrument. It can muse, laugh, bubble, whisper, flirt, giggle, smile, sing, wander and croon – qualities which the clarinet inherited and refined. This beautiful Basset Clarinet Concerto, recorded here for the first (and possibly only) time, is pure fun from start to finish. Listening to it, I feel as if I have just been given back my favourite childhood toys, and the feeling is nostalgia of the happiest kind, unadulterated joy and the splendid sensation of pure freedom. Those of you unfamiliar with the work may like to know that the melting Adagio was used in the film Out of Africa.
The Oboe Concerto in C major, K314/285d is also better known in its rearranged form for flute (“No.2”, transposed up to D). This Second Flute Concerto is the very first classical piece I heard complete, when I was 14. Along with Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite (it was on the other side of the tape), it launched my maiden voyage into classical music (I’m not sure why I’m telling you this; maybe you want to try it on the children). The mood of the concerto (either instrument) is joyful and lighthearted. Each version has its own personality as much as the oboe is different from the flute.
In his own notes, oboist Michel Piguet explains how the interpretative and playing styles are different in Mozart’s time. The Grundmann oboe he uses, dating from 1783, “is a very powerful two-keyed instrument, and it was not found necessary to use a separate microphone for [it] during the recording”! This natural blessing is happily married to Piguet’s expert, natural and spirited playing, itself matching the performance of clarinettist Antony Pay.
The disc coupling the clarinet and oboe concertos is arguably the most rewarding of the three. Unfortunately, it is also the shortest at 47 minutes. Indeed, it is a pity that the Academy and Hogwood did not find the opportunity to record the flute version of K314/285d, which would have completed this collection. Everyone here is in very fine form, especially when you consider that these were done in the 80s, when period instrument performance was beginning to (try to) sound good instead of being just cerebral and harsh. I could be wrong, but I’ve always felt that during this second period, the Academy laid some of the foundations of the current third era of period performance, which is the most mellifluous, balancing brain- and ear-candy concerns. This is how Mozart’s wind concertos are like: balance of form and pleasure.
My fellow writer Yeuk Fan has already written extensively on the Halstead recording of the Horn Concertos. Thankfully, I haven’t much else to add (otherwise, this’ll be yet another excruciatingly long review…). Like him, I found the performances on the mild-mannered side but consistently pleasing, and… “unblameable”. If you ever thought that period instruments = bad, screeching, strained, thin tones, Halstead’s horn-playing in the slow movements will very likely change your mind. That this a very worthy collection is also due to the presence of the additional works, including the reconstructed K412 Horn Concerto.
I plead guilty to all charges of having, at one time or another, said that Mozart is boring. But on reflection, I think deep inside me I have always loved these concertos for their totally unassuming beauty. When Mozart writes for woodwind, he is not quite the same Mozart who writes symphonies or string quartets. There is something particularly open and free, mentally and spiritually speaking, about the wind concertos, as if Mozart had thrown away all worldly concerns when he wrote them. This is especially poignant with regards to the Clarinet Concerto, written in his final year. At no point does one hear any hint of unhappiness, poverty, illness or impending doom.
It is almost beautifully unreal.
In Singapore, this set is available at or can be ordered from Sing Discs (Raffles City), Borders (Wheelock Place), Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City) or HMV (The Heeren)
224: 28.6.1998. up.28.10.2000Chia Han-Leon