Mozart: Divertimenti No 11 & 17 / Muller-Bruhl, Cologne CO

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MOZART Divertimenti: No. 11 in D, K 251; No. 17 in D, K 334 • Helmut Müller-Brühl, cond; Cologne CO • NAXOS 8.570990 (73:49) Helmut...
MOZART Divertimenti: No. 11 in D, K 251; No. 17 in D, K 334 Helmut Müller-Brühl, cond; Cologne CO NAXOS 8.570990 (73:49)

Helmut Müller-Brühl remained active until shortly before his death in January 2012. These Mozart divertimenti, recorded in mid-September 2011 may well be the last recordings he made. His legacy—mainly in baroque and early classical repertoire, from the days of LP on Nonesuch and, if I’m not mistaken, on Turnabout and the Musical Heritage Society, all the way up to practically the present day, primarily on Naxos—is a long and distinguished one. Yet for all his many fine recordings of composers who were near contemporaries of Mozart, such as the two Haydns, Josef and Michael, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, and Ignace Pleyel, Müller-Brühl seems not to have committed much Mozart to disc. That makes this new Naxos release of the conductor leading two of Mozart’s divertimenti especially welcome.

As a musical genre, the divertimento is but one member in a family of interbreeds that included the serenade, cassation, and notturno. All shared a common origin and purpose in music that was intended to entertain guests and lubricate the gossip at various social gatherings and functions. A modern-day equivalent might be the string quartet hired to play in the background at a garden party. Everyone hears it and knows it’s there, but no one really listens or pays much attention to it. The serenade was typically performed outdoors. The notturno, as its name implies, was an after-dinner evening piece, possibly played on a balcony or veranda. The meaning of cassation is unclear, but Mozart often referred to his divertimenti as such, the term, possibly being derived from the German, Gasse , and suggesting street or alley music.

There was no fixed form or number of movements to any of these pieces, but in the hands of Mozart, not only did some of his serenades and divertimenti take on a much more serious tone, they rendered the distinctions between these composition types even more meaningless than they already were. You have, for example, Mozart’s great Divertimento in E?-Major for violin, viola, and cello, K 563, which, if not for the fact that it’s in six movements, would probably have been cataloged as a string trio. Then there’s the Serenata notturna , K 239, a work in three movements for double string orchestra and timpani, which seems to elude classification and which may be why Mozart’s father, Leopold, put this hybrid title to the manuscript. In order of composition, Mozart’s next serenade is the “Haffner,” K 250, a big, celebratory score in eight movements, written for his sister’s prenuptial festivities. Three of its movements feature a violin soloist, partially lending the work the feeling of a concerto. And then, of course, there’s the serious side of Mozart’s serenading, the “Gran Partita” Serenade, K 361/370a, a score in seven movements for 12 wind instruments plus string bass.

Gradually, it seems that both serenade and divertimento more or less merged into an entity that settled on six movements containing two minuets and, in many cases, an opening march that was reprised in the concluding movement. The musical content, however, still varied widely from light, even frivolous, entertainment fare to weightier, more serious matter.

The two divertimentos on this disc both exhibit the above-mentioned six-movement layout with two minuets, but K 251 is of the lighter, amusement type, containing a rondeau movement and ending with a march. And while it’s hardly a trifle at nearly 26 minutes in length, it’s dwarfed by the more serious-minded K 334, which is almost twice as long at 48 minutes and much more thoroughly worked out. The contrasts in length, placement of movements, and musical content between these two works are evidence of how loosely—or freely, if you prefer—these types of compositions were titled and categorized.

Apart from the later Musical Joke , K 522, and the previously mentioned String Trio, K 563, the D-Major Divertimento, K 334, of 1779–1780 is the last of Mozart’s scores to bear the title “Divertimento.” It’s also the most extended and formally developed. Yet surprisingly, perhaps, is that it’s more modest in terms of orchestral scoring than the earlier D-Major Divertimento on the disc, calling for only two horns and strings. K 251, dated 1776, adds an oboe to the ensemble.

Helmut Müller-Brühl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra were made to play this music. Not even the most steadfast devotee of period-instrument performance could fail to be delighted by these performances. The Allegro s bubble and bustle with high spirits, while the slower movements capture the music’s sweetness, charm, and grace without surrendering to cloying sentimentality.

While Müller-Brühl may not have been one of the earliest pioneers in the historical performance movement, not all readers may know that for 10 years, from 1976 to 1986, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra he led also played and recorded on period instruments under the name Capella Clementina, and thus, both conductor and orchestra members gained inestimable experience in period practice which they applied to their post-1986 performances on modern instruments. This recording is a fruit of that familiarity with and understanding of Classical period performance practice and style.

Recent recordings of these works on modern instruments are not plentiful. In fact, unless one goes back to the mid 1980s and to Marriner’s five-disc Philips collection of the divertimenti with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, or to the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s four-disc Deutsche Grammophon serenades and divertimenti collection, which doesn’t include K 334, there aren’t that many more recent modern instrument versions to choose from. No matter; for these performances by Müller-Brühl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra are spot-on, and at Naxos’s budget price, practically a steal. Very strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 29, 2013

  • UPC: 747313099078

  • Catalog Number: 8570990

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: ""

  • Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Helmut Muller-Brühl

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Cologne Chamber Orchestra

  • Performer: Müller-Brühl