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Review: An expansive Mozart collection

Harmonia Mundi's daily fix for 250th anniversary partiers

By Porter Anderson
CNN

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The 10 CDs of Harmonia Mundi's "Mozart Edition" collection are being released in two sets of five.

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    Review
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Music

    ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Always a heavy, if lilting, presence on the classical scene, the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may seem to be waiting on every headset you put on this year.

    Have you seen Google's logo today?

    And do you have a friend who's excited about special concerts and events during the 250th anniversary year of the composer's birth on January 27, 1756? Or is the work of the second child born to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart in the university town of Salzburg a passion of your own, secret or otherwise?

    Harmonia Mundi has established itself not only as a profoundly committed label in the classics but also the purveyor of some of the cleverest packaging of that music you'll find.

    So just in time, Harmonia has for you a 10-CD gathering of superb Mozart recordings -- "The Mozart Edition" -- led off by a beautifully produced appointment book for the maestro's quarter-century year.

    Here is gorgeous artwork, from Joseph Vernet's 1748 painting of Naples -- "Cosi fan tutte" is set there, despite Mozart's opinion that the inhabitants were "impertinent" -- to Georg Mattheus Probst's marvelous flat-worldly view of the palace at Mannheim, which Leopold said had the best orchestra in Germany.

    And with the hardcover appointment book and its superb images from the artworld's love affair with the wunderkind's itinerate life comes a sampler-CD of full collection's offerings.

    Granted, the idea is to tempt you with some of the very best moments of many hours of stunning music. It works.

    The full program -- five of the specially packaged CDs have been released, five more are coming -- of course features the Rene Jacobs-led "Le Nozze di Figaro" which captured the Gramophone magazine Record of the Year award in 2004.

    You have only to hear Concerto Koln start stirring that famous overture's first, scurrying-busy bars. As soon as they explode into the ecstatic cheer heard right across the centuries, it's clear why the performance took the best opera recording Grammy last year.

    And the five CDs released so far in this "Mozart Edition" are a smartly parsed survey of the canon, each separately packaged in a sturdy box with extensive notes in booklet form and five languages.

    Harmonia's association with The English Concert's Andrew Manze remains one of its most felicitous assets. And in the first of the Edition's CDs, you hear the initial collaboration of soloist and ensemble for (what else?) "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" -- "A Little Night Music."

    The 1790 "Cosi fan tutte" is the second in the series, again with Rene Jacobs leading his forces in a performance laden with awards, from the Cannes Classical to the Edison.

    Some of the most intensely thoughtful Mozart moments are in the Adagio of the Serenade No. 10, the "Gran Partita," conducted on the third CD by Philippe Herreweghe with the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees.

    Herreweghe and the Champs-Elysees are joined by La Chapelle Royale, the Collegium Vocale Gent and soloists Sibylla Rubens, Annette Markert, Ian Bostridge and Hanno Muller-Brachmann in the great Requiem (1791).

    This is the despairing but still powerful man we know, after the career had gone south and as illness was ending it all. Herreweghe's majestic tempos and aggressive string support to the singers give the work its proper size.

    The Clarinet Quintette (K. 581) and trio (K. 498) are the fifth CD's entry, with Michel Portal, Regis Pasquier, Roland Daugareil, Bruno Pasquier, Roland Pidoux and Jean-Claude Pennetier.

    With more to look forward to in this series, there's a real sense of rise and promise to the arc of this compilation of solid renditions, a lot like the soaring buoyance of the composer's work still so avidly celebrated from Salzburg's bell-ringing Friday to mark the birth to special events planned all year.

    Sometimes the greatest thing you can offer to a body of work so broad as this is structure, organization, and that's where Harmonia Mundi has stepped in to sort through some high points of a soaring compendium.

    Grab your appointment book and listen to your daily Mozart. 2006 sounds better already.

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