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Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, January 2005

"In 1777, Mozart set out with his mother on a tour to seek his musical fortune outside of the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. He was soon to find great success in Mannheim, a city that boasted one of Europe’s most famous orchestras. Success, that is, in popularity and collegial respect, but alas, no appointment to the court was in store. Nonetheless, while there he made the acquaintance of one Friedrich Ramm, a gifted oboist. Further travels and a great misfortune in the death of his mother led him to make a round-about way back to Salzburg, a city he by now detested.

It was upon his return there in 1781 that he composed his F major quartet for his friend Ramm. It is a delightfully elegant piece, chock-full of the infectious melodies for which Mozart is known and loved. The later work for oboe and strings (the Quintet K. 406) is a reworking of his serenade for wind instruments K. 388, and was born out of the precariously difficult last decade of the composer’s life, a time that saw him almost constantly struggling to keep his financial head above the waves.

Bernhard Crusell was a Finnish-born clarinetist and composer. Educated in Stockholm, he was later to make that city a major base for his career as a soloist. His charming divertimento of 1822 is a little gem of a piece, full of formal craft and winsome tunes. One is particularly and pleasantly surprised by the unexpected shifts in mode and harmony, a clever series of devices that keep the listener tuned in.

Johann Christian Bach, the youngest of Sebastian’s sons, and eleventh of his thirteen (out of a total of twenty) surviving children, was born in Leipzig and remained there assisting his father until the elder’s death in 1750. From there he joined his brother (Carl Philip Emmanuel) in Potsdam, later moving to Italy where he converted to Catholicism and became a cathedral organist in Milan. He later moved to London, where, like Handel, he found considerable success as a composer of Italian opera, meeting the young Mozart, and living rather well until fashion turned against the art form in which he had made his fortunes, causing him considerable struggles in his later years. His elegant and charming Oboe Quartet from 1776 is typical of the composer’s fondness for varied combinations of instruments, and is in melody, harmony and style a harbinger of the classical mindset that would make the careers of Haydn, Mozart and the young Beethoven.

Max Artved is clearly the star of this program, and his warm and fluid oboe tone is most pleasing. His control of the instrument, flawless intonation and finely shaped phrasing is a delight for the ear. Lest I seem dismissive of his colleagues, I would hasten to add that this is an ensemble of first-rate professionals. It is not clear if these musicians play together regularly, but they do all have membership in various Danish orchestras in common. The Danes must be the proud home of some excellent conservatories, if the refined playing of this group is any indication.

This recital is one of those double plusses, which allow for careful and involved listening if desired, and some splendid ambient music if the occasion calls for such. The music itself is tuneful and energetic, elegant and engaging, and should be appealing to all but the most curmudgeonly of listeners. Similar enough in style to flow together without too much of a jar, there is plenty of subtle drama to keep your ears attuned as well.

This is a most pleasant and recommendable disc, one that would find pride of place in any library. Superb sound quality, and Keith Anderson’s typically fine program notes are the icing that secures this recital a firm spot in the winner’s column."

Peter J Lawson
MusicWeb International, December 2004

"This well-planned programme of known, half-known and unknown18th century music - the sort of thing Naxos does so well - squeezes two welcome rarities between much more familiar Mozart pieces.

The best known here is the wholly delightful Oboe Quartet in F, K370 - a fun-piece if ever there was one, despite venturing briefly into the minor-key shade in its beautiful slow movement.

The Crusell Divertimento (scored for the same combination as both K370 and Bach) dates from 1822. It’s more of a concerto piece than the rest of the disc, requiring a virtuosic almost operatic personality from the soloist. Don’t underestimate it before you hear it! It’s beautifully crafted, and - as you might expect from an albeit minor contemporary of Weber, Schubert and Bellini - there’s an abundance of early-Romantic colouring, despite its obviously-Classical roots. Every commonplace idea is balanced by an agreeable surprise.

The London Bach’s two-movement Quartet is elegant and diverting, as almost always, but pretty lightweight.

Most of us will find the so-called ‘Oboe Quintet’ - the most substantial item, however you measure substance - the most interesting. I was referring to this piece when I spoke of ‘half-known’ Mozart in my introduction. No mere curiosity, this is in fact the same piece as the Serenade in C minor (dating from 1782) for two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons, which Mozart himself arranged and published five or six years later as the String Quintet in C minor. Its appearance here in an uncredited arrangement for oboe and string quartet is, if I may be forgiven for using the word, wholly ‘viable’. Doubly so, because it uses two violas instead of two violins (like the Horn Quintet, K407 - an admirable precedent) in order better to preserve the scoring of contrasted pairs inherent in both of Mozart’s versions. Of course an Oboe Quintet thus constituted manages to be a near-perfect compromise between the sound worlds of Wind Octet and String Quintet. Unauthentic though it may be it has no problem justifying itself. One can hardly object to the preponderance of the solo oboe, either, as this is an undoubted characteristic of the original Serenade, testing as it does the stamina of even the most experienced players. Only in the extraordinary inverted double counterpoint of the Menuetto in canone does one miss the integrity of Mozart’s first or second scoring - that’s impossible to sustain with this combination of instruments. Actually, the Serenade is no such thing: no serenade, I mean. It’s a powerfully-argued, dark-hued piece, typical of so much mature minor-key Mozart, with an intensity and seriousness of purpose light worlds away from the divertissement implied by its original title.

Max Artved is principal oboe with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and his colleagues on this disc are fellow players in the same ensemble. They are well-honed musicians, both individually and collectively: the urgency and unity of their playing in the C minor Serenade-Quintet is most compelling. You may, like me, occasionally wish for fractionally more spacious tempi, if only to give more time for phrases to breathe? Artved himself plays divinely, with a seductively beautiful tone, an impeccable sense of style, and wonderfully precise articulation. The two perfectly-focused top Fs in the Mozart Quartet bring an irresistible smile of admiration and satisfaction: this really is top-drawer oboe-playing, deserving of the most lavish praise!

Unsurprisingly, the sound, originating with Danish Radio, is outstanding, and the liner notes informative. Go buy yet another Naxos!"

Patrick C Waller
MusicWeb International, October 2004

"The major works here are those by Mozart. The Oboe Quartet is a work derived from a visit to Mannheim and was written for the oboist Friedrich Ramm. In three movements, it is generally sunny although the central adagio has some darker overtones. The Oboe Quartet is one of Mozart’s better known chamber works and so is the Quintet, but not in this format. Originally written in 1782 as a Wind Serenade (in which form it is numbered as K.388), Mozart transcribed it for String Quintet several years later. In this version (the derivation of which seems to be unknown), the oboe takes the place of the first violin. Whether or not this arrangement is authentic, it seems to work well. The basic character of the work is predominantly dark (as befits C Minor) but there can be a substantial difference in feeling between the wind and string versions. Here we get a half-way house – the version to play if you can’t make up your mind between the others! There are four movements, the second and third of which are an andante and minuet respectively.

The playing of Max Artved and his Danish colleagues is stylish and well-judged. I have nothing to compare them against in Mozart’s Quintet (and indeed it rarely seems to have been recorded in this form) but found their version of the Quartet to be markedly preferable to the one by Lothar Koch and members of the Amadeus Quartet in a mid-1970s recording. Artved’s spirited approach is more winning in both outer movements and I also found his refusal to linger in the slow movement advantageous.

Both the Crusell Divertimento (in four brief movements for oboe plus string quartet) and Bach Quartet (in two movements) last about ten minutes and are attractive works but they lack the profundity of Mozart’s Quintet. Again the playing is graceful and stylish but Sarah Francis and the Allegri Quartet (on Hyperion Helios) make rather more of the Crusell (their couplings are Quintets by Kreutzer and Reicha), and they are also better recorded. Whilst the basic sound quality on this new disc is good, the oboe is balanced too closely and there is quite a lot of key noise, especially during the trills. The balance seems less troublesome in Mozart’s Quintet than in the other works. The prevailing dynamic level is higher than usual and there is a need to adjust the volume control downwards for comfortable listening. The documentation is well up to the usual standard from this source i.e. excellent for a budget price disc.

Overall, this is a mixed bag. If an arrangement of K.406 for Oboe Quintet appeals, then look no further. There are a fair number of alternative versions of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet available and, whilst this is an acceptable bargain version, the close balance seems to rule it out as a top choice."

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