The title of this exceptional disc, "Night Music", should not be taken to mean that the performances are in any way dark, mysterious, droopy, sluggish, or otherwise conventionally "nocturnal". Rather, the term evokes its 18th century musical meaning: a time for fun, relaxation, parties, entertainment both indoors and out, and of course, romance. Indeed, "Romantic" is perhaps the best way to describe these virtuosic, impulsive, and extravagantly expressive performances by the inimitable Andrew Manze and his team of crack "authentic-instrument" players.
British tenor Mark Padmore brings together a collection of English and Italian arias from Handel oratorios and operas. Padmore, who performs works of many eras in a wide range of styles, has primarily settled into the kind of repertoire Peter Pears comfortably inhabited, but with a stronger emphasis on Baroque opera and oratorio. Padmore's voice resembles Pears' in some ways; it's a light instrument, and is capable of great agility. It has some of Pears' limitations, particularly a tendency toward tonal blandness and lack of variety in its colors, as well as a slight edge when pushed. Most importantly, though, Padmore does not have Pears' reedy quality or breathiness – his voice is pure and more mellow than Pears'.
Get yourself vaccinated in time! The rococo red Mozart flood is looming on the horizon. In jubilee year it will bring us a plague of catchy tunes, also known as earworms, which you are advised to immunise yourself against to save your ear passages from clogging up. Particular risk of infection is expected from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K 525. It is as if the veins of a well-preserved mummy long frozen in glacier ice were to be refilled with living blood and spirits and return to life from eternal cryofication. At one point Mozart jumps so cheekily from G major to E flat major that one cannot help laughing.
The title of this exceptional disc, “Night Music”, should not be taken to mean that the performances are in any way dark, mysterious, droopy, sluggish, or otherwise conventionally “nocturnal”. Rather, the term evokes its 18th century musical meaning: a time for fun, relaxation, parties, entertainment both indoors and out, and of course, romance. Indeed, “Romantic” is perhaps the best way to describe these virtuosic, impulsive, and extravagantly expressive performances by the inimitable Andrew Manze and his team of crack “authentic-instrument” players.
Every major conductor, and most not-so-major ones, comes around to recording Eine kleine Nachtmusik, but not so many do it as well as George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra strings. And let’s face it, you won’t find a period-instrument ensemble that plays with anything like this level of polish. The fact is, Szell’s conception of Mozart was not terribly far from “period” sensibilities: restrained use of vibrato, incisive rhythms, crisp ensemble, lively tempos, but also a welcome degree of warmth to the sound and of course incredible ensemble discipline and some of the best players on the planet. And he had real period instruments, meaning performers who owned top quality old violins and bows, not inferior modern reproductions of them. The result is as lovely a performance of Mozart’s perennially delicious Serenade as we are ever likely to hear.