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Mozart: Three Divertimenti for Strings; Serenata Notturna.

Mozart: Three Divertimenti for Strings; Serenata Notturna. Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martinin-the-Fields. First Impression Music FIM XR24 071.

After listening to the first track on this disc, the Divertimento in D, K. 136, and picking my jaw up off the floor, I turned to the booklet note, where the XRCD's producer, Winston Ma, says "I consider the string tone and nuance of this recording the best from my entire collection, including all other labels." This is no mere hyperbole. I found the disc perhaps the best recording of a small chamber orchestra I've ever heard. Be forewarned, however: The recording is fairly close. If your speakers are at all forward or bright, you might not appreciate what you hear. On my VMPS RM-40s, the sound was delicious.

Of course, for any remastering like this one to sound good, the engineers have to start with good source material, and here is one of the ingredients of the present success. If you're old enough to remember the excitement Neville Marriner generated back in the sixties and early seventies with his Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields recordings of early music, done long before the period-instruments crowd co-opted the subject, you'll feel some of that excitement again in this FIM recording. Marriner recorded the Divertimenti and the Serenata Notturna in 1968 and issued them on the Argo label, the home of so many fine recordings that sound as good today as they did back then. Only in this case, they sound better.

Mozart's Divertimenti are filled with a youthful exuberance, appropriate to the composer's age when he wrote them, sixteen, although they are by no means immature works. They are light and airy, to be sure, scored entirely for strings, but they have immense gravitas, too. Besides, by Mozart's reckoning, a fellow who started writing music when he was in the womb, sixteen was practically middle age. The Serenata Nocturna, written four years later, adds a few march tempos to the proceedings and delights in using what is essentially a string quartet supported by a small string ensemble and muted tympani. The result is startlingly innovative and endlessly brilliant, with Marriner and the Academy playing it with all the spit and polish they are known for.

FIM does up the recording in the 24-bit XRCD process developed by JVC, a technology so precise and so exacting it makes the formulas for string theory seem crude by comparison. Needless to say, you pay a heavy price for an XRCD and its elaborate packaging, a price that would buy you a half dozen Naxos CDs; but one listen to this disc through a good stereo system, and you'll see why the price may be worth it.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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Next Article:Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364; Duo for Violin and Viola in G, K. 423.

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