- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

Jan. 27, the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, has come and gone already. However, because it was his 250th this year, musicians, concertgoers and recording companies aren’t ready to let it go. Mozart, always the party boy, probably would approve.

Sony Classical weighs into the world of Mozartiana this week with a three-CD compilation, “Mozart: A Celebration.” Though this set seems to be a stalking horse for a promised series of commemorative releases to be issued this year from the Sony BMG Masterworks archives, it’s enjoyable in its own right as a newbie introduction to one of the greatest composers who ever lived. It’s also pretty good as a “greatest hits” compilation for enthusiasts just beginning to build their CD collections and needing a sampler of the composer’s major works.

How much? The studio promises three CDs for the cost of one full-price disc. A real deal. (Of course, it’s pretty easy to produce when every track is sitting in Sony’s archives.) The disadvantage of collections like this is that you get bits and pieces of this and that but never get a chance to hear an entire work. On the other hand, if that’s the way people listen to classical music these days, perhaps it’s just fine. What you do get for your money is a compilation performed by acknowledged musical giants of the past and present.

The artists include George Szell, Colin Davis, Rafael Kubelik, Alicia de Larrocha, Rudolf Serkin, Ruggero Raimondi, Teresa Berganza and Leontyne Price. Featured ensembles include the English Chamber Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. Performances, whether of more recent vintage or digitally remastered from another era, sound clean and crisp on these discs.

Some interpretations might strike listeners as a bit different from what they’re used to hearing. For example, the first movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of the late Mr. Szell — a noted Mozart interpreter — might strike audiences as a tad slow. In the end, it’s all a matter of interpretation.

Perhaps the most delightful part of this collection is its third “bonus” CD, “Serene and Sublime: Mozart’s Most Relaxing Melodies.” I normally despise this kind of marketing. However, this compilation of restful adagios from various Mozartian sources, ranging from “Die Zauberflote” (“The Magic Flute”) to the Quartet for Flute and Strings in F (K 370, as performed by soloist James Galway) is simply wonderful as background to a romantic dinner at home or a lively cocktail party where people want to be heard rather than being drowned out by the entertainment.

Our only real complaint about the set is one we have made time and time again. Aside from a list of the pieces and their performers and the addition of a few ephemeral paragraphs at the end, there aren’t any of what record collectors used to call “liner notes.” It costs the producers just a few hundred dollars to exploit the talents of a half-decent writer to pen a little educational material for the masses. Yet most recording companies don’t care. It’s too bad because young people are increasingly being deprived of classical music instruction in the public schools — which also don’t care.

Sony has promised, however, to launch an informational Web site sometime this week at https://www .mozart250.sonyclassical.com. It wasn’t up as of this writing, but if it contains enough good educational material, we might reconsider our previous rant.

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