Gordan Nikolic / Netherlands Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Serenade "Haffner"; March

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This is a superb recording of Mozart's "Haffner" serenade, the Serenade in D major, K. 250, marred only by troublesome sound despite a raft of audiophile designations. The work was composed in 1776 for the bachelorette party (the English notes use the Britishism "hen's night") of Elisabetta Haffner, the daughter of Salzburg merchant Siegmund Haffner, but the assembled bridal party may not have known what to make of this massive 54-minute work. It marks a real breakthrough for the 19-year-old Mozart in its huge blocks of harmony, and it can be deadly dull in the hands of garden-variety chamber orchestras. The work is in eight movements, including three minuets, two slow movements, two full sonata-form movements, and a sizable central rondo. There are remarkably few real melodies in the work, just juxtapositions of texture and tonality that are often humorous when done right. This performance by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under Gordan Nikolic is technically very sharp, sensitive, and with a certain tautness that keeps the listener very alert and gives a strong feeling of the ways Mozart was learning in this work to think in terms of large-scale forms. The players use modern instruments but seem to be aware of the impact the natural brasses of Mozart's time should have when they appear. There is an opening March in D major that might easily have opened the evening's festivities, and the entire performance captures the curious mix of pomp and irrepressible wit that makes this work unlike any other of Mozart's. The only problem is the sound, recorded in Amsterdam's Waalse Kerk (Wallonian Church). The booklet notes lecture the reader on the importance of outdoor music-making in Mozart's world, but no attempt is made to evoke that environment; the church sound is over-resonant, remote, and in places even harsh. The German label MDG has shown how music of this kind can be made to suggest outdoor spaces without actually recording outside. Nevertheless, really lively recordings of this work are rare enough that this one will find a place on the perfect Mozartian's shelf or hard drive.

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