September 03, 2009


Mozart: Overtures to “La Clemenza di Tito” (plus Marcia), “The Marriage of Figaro” (plus Marcia), “The Magic Flute” (plus Marsch der Priester), “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” “Die Schauspieldirektor,” “Idomeneo” (plus Marcia, Passepied, and Pas seul de Monsieur Legrand, Largo [ballet]), “Mitridate, Rè di Ponto” (plus Marcia), “Don Giovanni,” “Les Petits Riens,” “Bastien und Bastienne,” “Così Fan Tutte.” Norwegian National Opera Orchestra conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Naïve. $16.99.

Handel: Water Music, Suites 1-3; Telemann: Water Music (“Hamburg Ebb and Flow”). Zefiro conducted by Alfredo Bernardini. Ambroisie. $12.99.

     There is little music on these CDs with which classical-music lovers will be unfamiliar. But the brightness and verve of the performances combine with a cleverly chosen program (on the Mozart CD) and excellent original-instrument playing (on the CD of Handel and Telemann) to make these well-known works sound fresh and thoroughly enjoyable.

     Rinaldo Alessandrini is better known for authentic performances of Baroque music than for Mozart, but he turns out to be as skillful a conductor of Mozart overtures as he is of Bach and his contemporaries. This is a highly personal CD: the overtures are not in chronological or any other particular order; music from operas is mixed with the overture to the ballet Les Petits Riens; overtures to several (but not all) operas are followed by additional music from them; and La Clemenza di Tito both opens the CD (with its Overture) and closes it (with its Marcia). If this were not music by Mozart, it would likely seem a hodgepodge; but Mozart’s musical flow, and the lovely playing that Alessandrini extracts from the Norwegian National Opera Orchestra, make the CD a pure joy from start to finish. The tripartite overture to Mitridate, Rè di Ponto and the short overture to Bastien und Bastienne (using a theme on which Beethoven would later expand significantly in the “Eroica” symphony) are perhaps the least-known pieces here, but even the highly familiar ones – The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così Fan Tutte and others – are played with such bounce and freshness that the music simply washes over a listener in waves of pure pleasure. This is not a CD designed to “prove” anything through specialized performance practices or rediscovery of little-known music – it is simply a collection of wonderful works, arranged to give the conductor enjoyment and, as a result, providing plenty of pleasure to listeners as well.

     The pleasures of Zefiro’s excellently played Water Music CD are of a different sort. To be sure, this CD’s arrangement is also a touch on the quirky side: Telemann’s music appears between Handel’s Suite in F (whose movements are rearranged from their usual sequence) and before Handel’s Suites in D and G (whose movements are commingled). But the main things that Alfredo Bernardini and Zefiro bring to the music are impeccably tasteful playing, a thorough understanding of the tempi and ornamentation of Handel’s and Telemann’s time, and a bright sound that accords perfectly with music that was intended to be played outdoors. Zefiro, by design, emphasizes wind instruments (as is clear from its name: Zephyr was the god of the gentle West Wind), and that focus is particularly apt for this double helping of water music, in which winds predominate and are designed (by both composers) to reflect life al fresco. Handel’s more-familiar music is less directly linked to the “water” theme – it was written to be played during trips upon the water rather than to sound like water itself. Telemann’s work is closer to program music, its dances sometimes depicting mythological gods associated with water and other times representing harbor life along the Elbe, in the city of Hamburg. These are loving and lovely performances of beautiful music – and the dual photos of Zefiro, one with members in concert dress and the other with them in bathing suits, are a wonderful and very amusing bonus.

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