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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Concerto No. 1, K313 [26.16]
Flute Concerto No, 2, K314 [20.53]
Concerto for Flute and Harp, K 299 [29.37]
Sir James Galway (flute), Marisa Robles (harp)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner (conductor)
BMG-RCA CLASSIC LIBRARY 82876 59409 2 [77.01]


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Although there is no doubting the calibre of any of the musicians involved here, I personally find the whole approach to Mozart on this disc too polite and refined to be truly successful. That said, Schnabel’s remark that Mozart’s works should be played so that they "flow like oil" characterises these performances perfectly, so, if that is the style you prefer, it is very likely that you will succumb to this discs charms more readily than I did.

Nothing to be heard on this disc is ever less than stylish and flawlessly delivered. The ASMF’s ensemble is, as always, immaculate and the blend of the strings could not be better judged. The same goes for Galway’s flute tone; it is rich, perfectly tuned and with not a hint of breathiness to be found. Ultimately, though, I could not help but feel that all of this smoothness is rather counter-productive. It would be brilliant for Debussy or Ravel (inseparable horns and oboes - ideal for Impressionist music), for example, but I feel that Mozart should ideally have energy and elegance in equal measure. Here, the balance is too much in favour of elegance and, while these pieces respond better than much of Mozart would to this approach, I still feel that a few more sharp edges would not have gone amiss.

The very opening tutti of Flute Concerto No. 1 is a case in point. The strings all use a healthy (although by no means excessive) amount of vibrato but, as the authentic instrument movement has shown, a great deal of energy and lightness can be generated from slimming down the vibrato and making the rhythmic framework of a piece more sharply etched. Here, you can certainly hear the cellos and basses, but crisper articulation would have added a welcome degree of freshness. The ‘full-bloom’ approach is tailor-made for Galway’s playing. He, too, uses plenty of rubato and, as flute playing per se, it is undeniably beautiful and bespeaks outstanding musicianship. Over the duration of a whole concerto (to say nothing of a whole disc), though, it feels too rich and unvaried and I felt that a lighter tone in places would have been a welcome contrast. If you compare Galway’s monochrome approach to that taken by Emmanuel Pahud in his EMI disc of these works, the greater range of tone (varying from the rich and heavy to the gossamer and pure) at once demonstrates how much more light and shade it is possible to inject into these works. The slow movements and finales are played as one might expect given my comments above; very slow in the case of the first Flute Concerto, and delicate rather than zippy in the case of the Flute Concerto No. 2. The same goes for the Flute and Harp Concerto, in which the harp is pleasingly ‘present’. This performance is, to my mind, the most successful on the disc as the harp helps to cut through the blandness of the strings.

All told, then, this is a perfectly good and valid recording of these works. The sheer beauty of playing on offer is a tribute to all involved but, as with almost any work by a truly great composer, these works have so much more than prettiness to offer. If you are after a background music disc, or if you know and like these artists, this is a perfectly good option. If, like me, you object to Mozart being given the ‘Dresden china’ treatment and feel that this reduces his works to something akin to pretty triviality, you will want to look elsewhere. The Naxos disc of these works (with Patrick Gallois) is a very viable alternative for a modern-instrument performance of these lovely works and sheds far more light on their freshness than this present recording, as does Emmanuel Pahud on EMI.

Em Marshall

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