Mozart's Divertimento No. 17 in D major, K. 334, for strings and two horns, is one of his most ingratiating works. Not only is the first of its two minuets one of the most celebrated specimens of its kind, but the second movement is substantial enough to stand on its own in the variation category. There is no end of rhythmic inventiveness, surprising color or thematic abundance in this work, which, like several of its companion divertimentos and serenades, has taken a place in both the orchestral and chamber-music repertories.
Originally, this was one of several such works Mozart composed for string quartet, double bass and two horns (with a solo oboe added in K. 251). It is more likely to turn up now in an orchestral concert, played by an only slightly reduced string section; and, provided the spirit is right, it can be equally effective either way. Indeed, one of its most memorable recordings in the past was made by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the newest of these expanded-string performances may well be the most attractive version of the work offered on records in the last 25 or 30 years.
Actually, this new recording, on a Hungaroton import (SIPX 12027), strikes a nice compromise between the original instrumentation and the weight of an orchestral string section. According to the jacket photo, there are only 16 string players in the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, quite a manageable number in preserving the original texture. Frigyes Sandor's pacing of the work is ideal: There is no hint of the presence of a conductor, no overlay of "interpretation." He simply keeps the music moving along at what seems a "natural" tempo, in every movement and subsection.
The balance between the strings and horns is ideal, too, with the latter neither overwhelmed by the strings nor artifically spotlighted, and repeats are taken in the variation movement. The recording itself is beautifully rich and clean, with just enough resonance to give it a natural warmth, and the surfaces are absolutely silent. In short, a winner.
Another winner, I think, is Angel's new recording of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, played by Andrei Gavrilov with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti (SZ-37679). This is only the second recording of Gavrilov's to reach our shores; even more than his earlier Prokofiev/Ravel couplin, it makes me sorry the young Russian had to cancel his visit to this country this year. This is just the sort of playing that puts real life back into even the most tired of warhorses: Big and bold, yet pervasively lyrical in concept, allowing every bar to sing.
Muti's part of this performance is no less impressive. He obviously sees eye to eye and heart to heart with Gavrilov on every interpretive point, and he succeeds in bringing out some inner voices in the orchestral writing that almost always go unnoticed -- without in any way holding up the marvelous flow. While he of course allows Gavrilov the prominence that is his due in the work, he treats the Concerto as a truly symphonic score.
Lest that remark imply a certain rigidity, let me say at once that perhaps the most striking feature of the performance is its flexibility, manifest especially in terms of the real sense of give-and-take between soloist and orchestra and in the freedom with which the various orchestral soloist enjoy their moments in the spotlight. The cello in the first half of the slow movement is particularly fetching.
Tempos throughout this performance seem as intuitively right as in the Mozart reviewed above. Because Garilov and Muti are neither hectic nor cautious, even the Finale, for once, comes off as real music, a succession of beautiful thoughts and afterthoughts. The recording itself is quite good, and the pressing (apparently farmed out to the Wakefield plant in Phoenix) is first-rate.