Fine Haffner Serenade, but the Musical Joke Falls Flat

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

This is an extremely full CD: more than eighty-five minutes’ worth of music. Aside from the Haffner Serenade, which lasts a good hour by itself, Willens includes the March in D Major, K. 249 that precedes it in Köchel’s catalogue and quite probably did so in the original performance too, and the Musical Joke, unfortunately in its original chamber scoring. I say “unfortunately” because this is about as un-funny a performance of the piece as I’ve ever heard. The period strings desperately need reinforcing to fill out the texture, and the horns consequently play far too politely so as not to drown them out. It really is a shame, because they are quite amusing when they have their solos, as in the minuet, where the alternation of open and stopped notes sounds particularly absurd.

The serenade, though, is beautifully done. Here everything is in balance. Violin soloist Alexander Janiczek plays very well indeed, with fine intonation and, in his many solos, a tasteful application of vibrato exactly where it ought to be to enhance the expressiveness of the tone. Willens paces the piece very smartly, not an easy thing to do in a work containing eight movements, including three minuets and two andantes. There are no dead spots. Rhythms are nicely pointed, the phrasing elegant but never precious, and the ensemble sonority never turns crude in pursuit of “authenticity.” It’s a pity the “Joke” couldn’t have been this good, but you still get more than an hour of first rate music making so I’m not inclined to judge that one failing too harshly. The engineering, as so often with BIS, is ideal.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Haffner Serenade and Musical Joke: Vegh (Capriccio)

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