Recording of August 1985: Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

885rotm.250.jpgMozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Posthorn Serenade
Prague Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras conducting.
Telarc CD 80108 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng. DDD.

Holt's First Law of Recording states: "The better the performance, the worse the recording—and vice versa." It's true; really fine recordings of superb musical performances are so rare that the discovery of one such gem is cause for rejoicing. Well, you can rejoice: this is one of them.

Although Charles Mackerras has recorded a number of major works, including operas, especially by Janácek, he is best-known among audiophiles for his recordings of frothy ballet music like Pineapple Poll, which he instills with a buoyant elan that few conductors seem to be able to muster these days.

Mozart's chamber works, however, demand more than mere sprightliness. In fact, there is only one particular style of light, incisive orchestral playing that catches the spirit of Mozart's music, and most conductors simply can't do it properly. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ("A Little Night Music"), in particular, has suffered untold disservice at the hands of conductors who are all too obviously bored with this chestnut. Heavy-handed dullness has become a hallmark of recorded performances; Mackerras here manages to make it sound like a newfound work.

These are utterly delightful performances. Even more surprising, the recording is so good that it seems not to be there at all. Of course, the music isn't high-powered system demo material, but here the excellence of Telarc's sound (which has been getting better with recent releases) just lets the music pass unscathed, with not a trace of that obtrusive and (to me) irritating hi-fi quality that screams "Listen to how great I sound!" The recording here is simply a vehicle for the music, and it serves the music admirably. The strings sound absolutely gorgeous; completely natural, without a trace of the steeliness that so frequently mars the other recordings of these works on both CD and LP.

This disc is what classical recording is all about. And I think it a little amusing (or ironic) that the definitive recordings of both these works had to come, not from RCA or CBS (both of which have recorded them more than you can shake a stick at) but from a small "audiophile" record company. This Telarc release is an unalloyed delight, and deserves to be in every music-lover's collection.

Bravo Telarc, Mackerras, and Mozart!—J. Gordon Holt

Azteca X's picture

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Prague Chamber Orchestra – Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik & Serenade

Anon2's picture

This CD is good and of historical significance.  I own it and enjoy it.  I slightly prefer the 1970s Philips recording or Eine Kleine Nachtmusik with I Musici played in the famed music hall of La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.  Nonetheless the Telarc recording is worthy of every praise and listener's time.

The real significance of this Telarc recording is that it belongs to one of the great symphonic cycles of Mozart committed to recording (and firmly in and of the CD age):  Telarc's Mozart box set of the complete symphonies with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Prague Chamber Orchestra.

This Mozart Cycle is one of the great box sets of the Classical musical epoch and repertoire.  It stands among such great accomplishments as Antal Dorati's complete Haydn symphonies and Murray Perahia's Mozart piano concerti with the English Chamber Orchestra.

The engineering of these recordings gave as full splendor to the inspired conductor and orchestra as to the recording venues for these works:  the Hall of the Artists and the Castle of Dobris, according to Telarc's excellent liner notes.

Telarc had a great run of very significant contributions to recorded music in the 1980s.  This recording, among many others by Telarc, rival the accomplishments of such venerable labels as Decca, Philips, EMI and Deutsche Grammophon.

Thanks to Stererophile for reminding us all of another great recording that any owner should revisit with a playing from his or her CD collection.

volvic's picture

Spot on! Couldn't have said it better myself.  I too own this recording and love it, we always talk about DG, EMI, Philips & London and their great performers but sometimes we neglect to mention that in the late 70's and 80's Telarc had amassed an impressive army of performers and made some glorious recordings of which I still love and listen to today.  Particular mention are the Beethoven Piano Concertos with Serkin and Osawa as well as Appalachian Spring conducted by Louis Lane and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  There are plenty more but if you haven't had the chance to dig into the Telarc catalogue start with any of the Mozarts that Mackerras did and go from there.  Great stuff! 

Anon2's picture

The previous post made me recall another highlight of Telarc's recording of Copland with the Atlanta SO:  the Fanfare for the Common Man.

To promote consistency for Telarc fans, Stereophile should regularly use the Fanfare for the Common Man from this Telarc CD CD-80078.  The cymbal crash and bass drum thump, captured by Telarc with a realism that few records that I have heard can rival, should be a regular "stress test" for amplification and speaker tests carried out by this publication.

Here are a few more Telarc recordings of the era that still stand among the best even to this day:

1. Sheherazade with Sir Charles Mackerras and the London Symphony Orchestra.

2. Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos 2, 3 with Pittsburgh, Maazel and Horacio Gutierrez.

3. "The Ring Without Words" with Maazel and the Berlin PO.

4. Thaikosvky Piano Concerto #1/Prokofiev Concerto #3 with Andre Previn, the Royal PO, and Jon Kimura-Parker.

5. Rachmaninov's Vespers with Robert Shaw and his Festival Singers.

6. Von Dohnanyi's Beethoven cycle with the Cleveland Orchestra.

One could go on all day with the memories. Telarc had a magnficent run.  It was a great promoter of American orchestras.  And it embodied a unique and irreplaceable spot in the recorded media.

ps. After Hours with Andre Previn, Joe Pass and Ray Brown.

volvic's picture

Rachmaninov's Vespers with Robert Shaw and his Festival Singers - have several versions and none have surpassed this recording.  I could go on and on, suffice to say that was Telarc's golden age. I used to count my quarters as a poor high school student to buy that Slatkin Daphnis & Chloe and Malcolm Frager's Chopin record, both of which I still own on vinyl and CD.  Good times indeed.  

JUNO-106's picture

Thanks Stereophile for posting this! I just bought it. Can't wait to listen to this for the first time. I've been in a Mozart mood lately.