The Australian Classical Wind Band
Octet in E flat,opus 103 (Beethoven);
Quintet for piano and winds, KV452 (Mozart);
Serenade No 11,KV375 (Mozart)
ABC Classics 476 5256
reviewed by Neville Cohn
A generous grant by the University of Western Australia provided the means to purchase a number of fine reproductions of early wind instruments. These have been utilised to praiseworthy effect in a compilation devoted to Harmoniemusik written by Mozart and Beethoven.
Radio and recordings were, of course, unknown in that era when this music was written. And the only way that many music lovers of the time might have heard hits from recently performed new operas (especially if they lived in towns without a resident opera company) was through concerts of opera-extract arrangements.
As was pointed out at the Perth launch of this CD, these selections played by the local wind band (known in Europe as Harmonie), were the juke boxes of that era; they enjoyed huge popularity playing what were the tops of the pops of the day. In addition to this, there were works purpose-written for Harmonie bands – and two of these are here played by a ensemble of musicians who style themselves The Australian Classical Wind Band.
As was pointed out at the launch of this CD, the instruments that would have been used in Mozart’s or Beethoven’s eras would not have been 200 or 250 years old. They would instead have been crafted in the days in which these composers lived and worked. So there is a strong case for these works to be performed, not on very old instruments of, say, Mozart’s day, but on good quality 20th- and 21st-century reproductions which would give to today’s listeners a far more realistic idea as to how ensembles would have sounded in bygone eras. And that applies to this recording.
At the launch, we were told that recording sessions to place this compilation on disc was not entirely without problems. Some of it was done in the dining room of a convalescent home which had a good acoustic. The recording was made late at night when there was little chance of residents or staff coming into the room which was, we were told, very cold indeed. Heaters were brought in to warm the room but this, too, became problematical as, after a comfortable working temperature was obtained, the heaters were switched off and, as happens with such appliances as they cool and contract, produced – we were told – a range of clicking noises that made recording even more problematical.
But patience had its reward. The end product is altogether appealing, with Beethoven’s Octet in E flat and Mozart’s Quintet for piano and winds, K452 working their customary magic. How strikingly different the works sound compared to performances on modern instruments. Here, playing within the line and contour of their eras, the instruments have an individual and corporate tone very substantially different to that produced by their modern descendants.
The recording is a joy from first note to last, not least for experiencing it much as our ancestors would have heard it.
In passing: I have heard these recordings on a number of ABC Classic FM broadcasts. I hope very much that radio stations abroad will give it the exposure it warrants.
Copyright Neville Cohn 2006