Various Artists

Mozart Variations: A Windham Hill Collection

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Originally released in 1999, this album consists of performances by various artists from the stable of the Windham Hill label. They were recorded in different places and are entirely different in style, but the album was apparently an original release, not a compilation of selections from other albums. If your experience with Windham Hill is restricted to the label's 1980s new age piano albums (a category Windham Hill performers now strenuously reject), you may be surprised by the variety here, although the contribution by pianist Liz Story evokes that era. You may also feel that the program is a bit of a grab bag, but the album isn't dull. Despite the presence of vocal melodies, all the music is instrumental. Some of the selections, such as the mandolin group led by bluegrass mandolinist Mike Marshall on Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, present Mozart's music straightforwardly, whereas in the smooth jazz treatment of the Incarnatus from the Mass in C minor, K. 427, you might be hard pressed to pick it out if you didn't already know it was coming. That's one of several tracks using a small vocalise choir, an extremely odd effect. The solo guitar selections, such as the unidentified Adagio (it is the Adagio in B minor for piano, K. 540) on track 9, are of a kind familiar from many guitar recitals, while the chamber arrangement of the Symphony No. 40 in G minor opening movement, accompanied with a djembe (track 3), arranged by guitarist William Coulter, is entirely novel. Most of the music has the characteristic mellow flavor associated with Windham Hill, but the texture curveballs keep on coming, and the sheer simple originality of some of the pieces will break through to even the skeptical listener. Try not to smile at the flute-and-panpipe arrangement of "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" from Die Zauberflöte (track 10). It's all an odd mixture, but one that may appeal to an audience beyond the label's existing circle of fans.

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