Performers: David Owen Norris p,
Katy Bircher f, Caroline Balding v, Andrew Skidmore vc
Catalogue Number: Hyperion CDA68234
Downsizing big works of the great composers became a cottage industry in early 19th-century London, led by the Italian-born composer, pianist and piano-maker Muzio Clementi and publisher Johann Baptist Cramer. They would take whole symphonies, concertos and even operas and arrange them for small, easily portable ensembles so they could be played in salons and reach audiences out in the provinces.
For many this was their first taste of Haydn, Mozart and the young Beethoven, and notable among these pocket-sized masterpieces was Clementi’s 1822 arrangement for piano, flute, violin and cello of Mozart’s Symphony No 41, published with the nickname “Jupiter” for the first time.
British pianist, broadcaster and educator David Owen Norris has used it as a starting point for an entertaining and fascinating disc featuring his “Jupiter” ensemble of flautist Katy Bircher, violinist Caroline Balding and cellist Andrew Skidmore.
Cramer produced two arrangements of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 – one for London in 1827 and the other for Munich in 1836, both played in full here – and
Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a former student of Mozart and friend of Beethoven, arranged several works for the same line-up, including the overtures to The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute, which complete this album’s track list.
The first thing to be said is that you hear all these familiar works with new ears on this recording, particularly the symphony. Clementi, of course, knew Mozart – they famously vied in a friendly keyboard face-off organised by Austrian Emperor Joseph II – and the pupil was at pains to preserve the master’s original intentions.
Norris is superb, giving this performance all the sparkle and majesty that can be summoned from such an unlikely combination of instruments. Bircher’s flute provides a sketchy simulacrum of the woodwind section (your imagination or aural memory fills in the rest) and Balding and Skidmore manage their meagre resources skilfully. But this is Mozart after all and if at times it sounds like a 28th piano concerto it is enjoyable nevertheless. The final fugato movement fairly rattles along.
The two Cramer arrangements are both equally satisfying and are difficult to tell apart without having the scores. Hummel’s overture treatments are the perfect companions.
Beautifully produced and recorded by the Hyperion team, this is music which should give even the pickiest Mozart fan as much pleasure as it must have brought to those 19th-century punters out in the sticks.