March 05, 2020
(++++) SERENADES AND DANCES
Mozart: Serenade in D, K. 250 (“Haffner”); March in D, K. 249; Ein musikalischer Spaß, K. 522. Die Kölner Akademie conducted by Michael Alexander Willens. BIS. $19.99 (SACD).
Tangos and More: Music of Aquiles Roggero, Mariano Mores, Ástor Piazzolla, Alicia Terzian, Juan Jose Castro, Jukka Tienssuu, Lucio Demare, Roque de Pedro, Juan Carlos Cobian, and Daniel Binelli. Grupo Encuentros conducted by Alicia Terzian. Navona. $14.99.
The two serenades by Brahms, at about 45 and 35 minutes respectively, are often mentioned as extending and expanding the relatively light serenade form into the near-symphonic realm, and in fact being used by Brahms as practice of a sort before he produced his full-fledged Symphony No. 1. But there is an earlier serenade more extensive and expansive than either of them, and while it is not symphonic in the same sense, it certainly shows the remarkable breadth and variety that a composer can bring to a form that is generally considered to be on the lighter side. This big serenade is Mozart’s “Haffner,” K. 250, an elaborate eight-movement work that can run more than a full hour when all repeats are observed. And it is a remarkable piece indeed, as is shown exceptionally clearly in a wonderful new period-instrument performance by Die Kölner Akademie, conducted by Michael Alexander Willens, on a very fine-sounding SACD on the BIS label. Actually, Mozart’s serenades, which were occasional pieces – created for specific purposes as a form of “outdoor music” – were often quite extended, but the “Haffner” is notable for more than its length. For example, it opens with a serious introduction that looks ahead to the composer’s later symphonies, and its second, third and fourth movements constitute a kind of miniature violin concerto that requires considerable virtuosity of the soloist – and the ensemble’s leader, Alexander Janiczek, is very fine here, performing with beautiful tone on a 1731 Giuseppe Guarneri instrument. This serenade was written for the wedding of a member of the prominent Haffner family, and Mozart made sure to create music that would be both appropriate for the occasion and challenging for the performers, notably in his wind use in the work’s finale, which is especially demanding of the bassoons. Along with the serenade, Mozart composed the March in D, K. 249, for the same occasion – and it sets up the serenade itself quite suitably and with considerable care. The elegance brought forth through Mozart’s always-careful compositional construction is important to understand when listening to Ein musikalischer Spaß (“A Musical Joke”), written 11 years after the serenade, in 1787. Here Mozart, from his very extensive knowledge of the right way to do things, does pretty much everything wrong – and a clear familiarity with K. 250 is vastly helpful for appreciating (and laughing at) K. 522. There are a few sections of Ein musikalischer Spaß that are so outrageously incorrect that even a listener unfamiliar with Mozart and the Classical era will be brought up short – there are overt wrong notes, for example, and some horn trills so high that they strain the players’ breath and capabilities (especially when performed, as they are here, on the natural horns of Mozart’s time). But there is much more than this in Ein musikalischer Spaß: accompaniment figures masquerading as melody, an overdone and tasteless cadenza, an attenuated fugue, and a final three chords played in five different keys at once – looking far, far ahead to the last note of Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2. The better a listener knows Mozart and his time, the more fun Ein musikalischer Spaß will be, and the rousing performance here – by musicians thoroughly versed in correct historical performance practices – is an absolute gem.
The lighter, dancelike elements of Mozart’s occasional works, such as the three minuet movements in the “Haffner” serenade, were used to help establish the music’s celebratory and outdoorsy character. And even in the 20th and 21st centuries, dance music can be used to set a variety of moods. That is how matters proceed on a (+++) CD featuring tangos and sort-of-tangos conducted by, and in a couple of cases composed by, Alicia Terzian. Although most of the 13 compositions here are instrumental, voices, including that of mezzo-soprano Marta Blanco, are heard in Terzian’s Argentino Hasta la Muerte and Un Argentino de Vuelta, Mariano Mores’ Cristal, and Lucio Demare’s Malena. This is one approach through which these works, in a modern way, vary the sound, pacing and rhythm of the music, as Mozart did in a different way for his instrumental complements. The pieces on this Navona disc are written to elicit a wide variety of sounds, and to do that, some – including both by Terzian – use electronics as well as traditional instruments. The basic aim here is to show just how varied the tango is and how many ways composers have used it over time (Malena, for example, dates to the 1940s, while other works here were written 50 or more years later) and in different geographical areas. In other words, the tango is not only favored by composers in Argentina, where Ástor Piazzolla transformed the old dance form in ways that continue to resonate today – through works such as Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, two of which are heard here in arrangements for piano trio – but also by composers as far away as Finland, from which comes Tango lunar by Jukka Tienssuu. Grupo Encuentros, which Terzian leads, consistently displays its ability to handle the tango in any and all varieties, and every work here takes full advantage of whatever set of instruments Terzian calls for. (The ensemble’s full complement includes Claudio Espector, piano; Sergio Polizzi, violin; Carlos Nozzi, cello; Fabio Mazzitelli, flute; Matias Tchicourel, clarinet; and Daniel Binelli, bandoneon – the bandoneon being particularly well-used in Piazzolla’s Picasso.) The varying elements of these pieces and their differing instrumentation make the CD as a whole a treat for tango fans, with specific pieces likely to appeal to listeners with different tastes: Terzian’s own to those seeking a distinctly contemporary sound, Aquiles Roggero’s Mimi Pinsón and Piazzolla’s works to an audience looking for something a bit more traditionally and authentically scored, and so on. Anyone who loves the tango and is interested in the many non-traditional ways it has been and is still being developed compositionally will likely find at least some of the material here intriguing, and a few of the pieces perhaps even fascinating.