After 229 years, it may be time to add another name -- Oscar -- to those pinned on Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he was born. Mozart has been the toast of music lovers for nearly two centuries; now he is the toast of Hollywood as well.
It is probably a coincidence that, a few days after the Academy Awards ceremony, New York Telephone announced a grant of $1.4 million to the Mostly Mozart Festival. And it is certainly a coincidence that, shortly before Oscar night, Video Arts International announced it will issue video productions of "Don Giovanni," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute" from England's Glyndebourne Festival -- a standard-setter in Mozart opera for half a century.
Perhaps the luckiest coincidence of all emerged in Alexandria, where Time-Life Music is hitting the market with a package called "The Portable Mozart" -- one of those happy accidents of timing that are often a key to success in publishing. For $175 (plus a $10 shipping charge), Time-Life offers 16 high-quality cassettes of Mozart's greatest hits, a personal cassette player and a superbly illustrated 244-page book, "Mozart: The Man, the Musician."
The cassettes come in an imitation-leather carrying case, which justifies the claim of portability. If you have a cassette player in your car, the music in this little case should get you to Canada without repeats.
One can argue endlessly about the pros and cons of a package like this. Why include the First Horn Concerto, which is hardly the best of the four? How could they leave out the Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, K. 361? Why use such conductors as Bernstein, Mehta and von Karajan, who are not Mozart specialists? Why isn't there more chamber music and why are Mozart's operas completely ignored?
To each question, there is an answer (probably based on market surveys) that will satisfy some more than others. Bernstein, Mehta and von Karajan are immensely popular and not bad conductors. The brief First Horn Concerto fills out a cassette side (with the splendid No. 4) to balance the timing of the Quintet K. 452 on Side 2 with a minimum of dead air -- and besides, Barry Tuckwell plays it magnificently. The "Haffner" and "Posthorn" Serenades (both included) are, rightly or wrongly, more popular than K. 361. More people want to hear symphonies and piano concertos than chamber music.
As for the operas, the situation is more complicated. The package includes only complete works -- 37 of them. On the whole, this is a commendable policy; the use of segments from larger works, however understandable, limits the value of the "Amadeus" sound track as a guide to Mozart. But a complete opera (which one?) would stick out like a sore thumb in a collection like this -- not to mention the problem of supplying a libretto. It may be, too, that there is a "Portable Opera" package somewhere in the Time-Life pipeline.
The bottom-line question is simple: Is it a good deal? The short answer is a cautious yes. It is a good deal for relative beginners in Mozart collecting, particularly those who are willing to let someone else (with good credentials) make a lot of complicated decisions.
Veteran Mozart collectors could assemble 16 cassettes more to their personal tastes, and would probably have some of these performances already. But this package has been carefully assembled to include the Mozart that most people will want to have about the house, in good performances by musicians whose names are widely known and respected. The sound processing scrupulously uses the most up-to-date techniques (chrome tape, Dolby noise reduction and real-time duplication) with generally fine results.
The cost approximately matches the list price of the cassettes alone at the top-line prices of Deutsche Grammophon, London and Philips (the three sources for this material). So those who pay list price (does anyone in Washington pay list price?) may consider the book (published by Schirmer for $45), the cassette player and the carrying case a sort of bonus. The program notes with the cassettes are considerably better than what we usually see these days.
The heart of the collection lies in its seven piano concertos and 10 symphonies, all (allowing for variations of taste) well selected and expertly performed. In the symphonies, an effort has been made to present the various ways of performing Mozart's orchestral music. Besides the "big-band" interpretations of Mehta et al., there are quite a few performances by chamber orchestras with such conductors as Benjamin Britten (an interpretation to cherish) and Neville Marriner, whom "Amadeus" has made the world's best-known Mozart interpreter. The variety is well illustrated by Side 1 of Cassette 6, which has the 25th Symphony played by Istvan Kertesz followed by No. 22 played on old instruments by the Academy of Ancient Music. This group, directed by Christopher Hogwood, has recorded all the Mozart symphonies in a unique series cherished by hard-core Mozarteans, and this sample whets the appetite.
Other highlights include four piano sonatas played by Alicia de Larrocha, the Clarinet Concerto interpreted by Gervase de Peyer and Peter Maag, the Clarinet Quintet, the magnificent String Quintet in G Minor, and two string quartets with nicknames ("Hunt" and "Dissonant"). This may be token representation of the chamber music, but they are fine tokens and may expand the tastes of many who buy the package for other reasons. The only vocal music is the "Requiem," conducted by Marriner, whose excellent interpretation is well known, at least in part, from the "Amadeus" sound track.
Following are some ideas for those who want to build their own Mozart collections.
Mozart: The Magic Flute (Highlights, arranged for wind octet by Joseph Heidenreich). Munich Wind Academy (Orfeo CD or LP, C or S 092-841 A). Don Giovanni (Highlights, arranged for wind octet by Joseph Triebensee), Munich Wind Academy (Orfeo CD or LP, C or S 063-841 A). An early stage of the pop-music business is documented in these performances of great Mozart tunes arranged with skill by Triebensee, a bit less deftly by Heidenriech. The music is light and highly enjoyable, the performance and sound are first-class, but these are records for slightly offbeat tastes.
Mozart Arias. Thomas Allen, baritone; Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Richard Armstrong (Angel LP DS 38043). Mozart: Concert and Opera Arias. Barbara Hendricks, soprano; English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate (Angel LP or cassette DS or 4DS 38180). You don't know Mozart until you know his vocal music, and these samplers by two of the most appealing young singers on the international operatic scene are a good introduction.