Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble & Trevor Pinnock - Mozart: Gran Partita - MusicWeb International

The other title given to Mozart's ‘Gran Partita' is Serenade No. 10 for 13 Wind Instruments. This may challenge the numerically pedantic, since many recorded performances do not conform. Looking tonally downwards, the thirteenth instrument, the contra-bassoon, is often replaced with a double bass. Some performances have indeed employed both instruments. For those, however, who prefer all blow and no scrape, the RAM Soloists Ensemble (RAMSE) recording should at least keep them happy on that count.

Another discretionary selection is a conductor. Again, many variations exist - established ensembles with or without conductor, and ensembles assembled for the occasion which may or may not be under the baton. What one can reasonably expect with a conductor in charge, though, is greater attention to, and oversight of, shaping, phrasing and rhythmic pointing.

It is on this last point that I found the RAMSE recording of the ‘Gran Partita' under Trevor Pinnock quite surprising. Had I not known its details in advance, I would have guessed the group were performing without external direction. While charming, confident and entertaining, their playing at times has the feeling of an adrenaline rush that thins sonority, blurs detail and fails to let key moments register properly. 

The second work, Haydn's Notturno No. 8, is the ‘London' version. Composed for Ferdinand IV of Naples, the original ensemble included two lire organizzate, a hybrid instrument combining the features of the hurdy-gurdy and the organ. Unable to source these instruments when he came to London in 1791-2, and faced also with larger performing spaces than the work was composed for, Haydn re-scored it for conventional string and wind instruments. It's in that form that we hear it played by the RAMSE, and as such may be one of the very few recordings, if not the only current recording, of this version. It's in three conventional movements, fast-slow-fast, and is delivered with aplomb by Pinnock and his group, this time comprising six strings, flute, oboe and two horns. This is minor but mature and engaging Haydn, exploring many moods and capped off with a spirited ‘hunting' finale.

MusicWeb International
28 April 2016