You can’t categorise Mozart’s oeuvre for wind band as “light music” or “serious music”, a distinction long favoured in German-speaking Europe, because it is both – often simultaneously, as Nachtmusique demonstrated in this all-Mozart recital at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Some divertimentos were written for social occasions; other pieces – such as the little Adagio K410 – probably for Masonic rituals. Do they qualify as masterpieces because we know they came from the pen of a genius?
Judging by the first half of this concert, the answer would be definitely not. Mozart may have been incapable of a dud note, but some of his lesser-known music for wind ensemble has a workaday character. And yet these very pieces – probably talked over at their premieres and rarely, if ever, heard together in Mozart’s lifetime – are vested with exceptional value today simply because we know their provenance and attach to them huge canonic significance.
Nachtmusique (the mixed German-French word was used by Mozart) was formed in 1990 by wind virtuosi from leading north European period-instrument orchestras. It does for late 18th-century music what the London Sinfonietta does for contemporary.
These musicians are iconoclasts, somewhat Jesuitical in their stage decorum and playing habits, in a way that Mozart might have found inauthentic – judging by the merriment he sewed into his musical tapestries. They began with a selection of duos for horns (some of them transcribed for basset horn, a less brilliant version of the clarinet), all of them ditties stressing agility and deftness but also sounding strangely muffled. Then came solemn adagios for various combinations, rounded off with Joseph Heidenreich’s 19th-century wind band cover of the Magic Flute overture – a welcome note of jubilation before the interval.
The second half was devoted to the Gran Partita serenade, parts of which are rightly recognised as equal to anything Mozart wrote. Nachtmusique were at their best in the minuet and its two trios, where chirruping oboes and bubbling bassoons lifted the performance above the diligent and dedicated.
In sum, a concert that didn’t match its promise or the illuminating insights in the programme from Eric Hoeprich, the ensemble’s clarinet/director.