Vengerov directs from the violin the young players of the UBS
Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in this first volume of his
project to record all Mozart’s Violin Concertos in two
years. It was not too long ago that I had the privilege of attending
Vengerov’s Bridgewater Hall, Manchester recital when he performed
all three of the Brahms Violin Sonatas. An event that was one
of the very few occasions when I felt I was in the presence
of a true musical genius.
award-winning Vengerov has returned from his much publicised
sabbatical to record Mozart’s second and fourth Violin
Concertos and the Sinfonia concertante. Clearly Vengerov
has not been putting his feet up and sunbathing on some Mediterranean
beach. He has been studying intensively, working with star Italian
mezzo, Cecilia Bartoli and also with the eminent early music
specialists Trevor Pinnock and Rachel Podger. Although using
modern instruments one senses that Vengerov, with these controlled
and unforced readings, has approached the concertos conscious
of his recently gained insights into historical informed performance
practice. The talented Vengerov has afforded himself the “indulgence”
of employing his own cadenzas as his “personal reaction”
to Mozart’s music.
For many years it was generally thought that Mozart had composed
his series of five Violin Concertos in 1775 during his
engagement as composer of the court orchestra of Archbishop
Colloredo of Salzburg. It is not certain
if the set was intended for his own use or for Salzburg court
orchestra leader Antonio Brunetti. Evidently the concertos
were also played in Salzburg by Johann Anton Kolb, for whom
Leopold Mozart implies one of the concertos had been written.
acknowledges that, “The second and the fourth Violin Concertos
are in the same key (D major), but they are so different, have
such different messages.” There
are only a few months between the composition dates of Mozart’s
two D major Concertos. Mozart completed his Concerto No. 2 in
D major, K211 in the June of 1775, scoring it for the usual
orchestra of oboes, horns and strings.
Vengerov states, “the earlier of the two concertos was
a special revelation. The slow movement, in particular,
strikes me as a miraculous synthesis of the young Mozart and
a new kind of emotional intensity that he would go on to explore
in the larger concertos that followed.” Displaying his undoubted
admiration for the score Vengerov is of the view
that, “The Second is minimalist, its experimental writing
but it creates magic. It's a dialogue, an intimate conversation.
It's opera without words.”
Vengerov has commented, the Concerto
No. 4 in D major, K218 together with the A major Concerto,
K219 are grander in scale than their three predecessors. Composed
in October of 1775 I greatly admire the final movement Rondo
of K218 with both a gigue and a gavotte. I
was somewhat taken by surprise by the approach here, rather
expecting generous amounts of characteristic vitality and excitement.
Here Vengerov has charted a middle-ground, avoiding the extrovert
Fabio Biondi-like dash and brilliance in the Allegros and
the intense emotional insights of Viktoria Mullova in the Andantes.
I especially enjoyed Vengerov’s interpretations
of the Andante movements where his deeply sympathetic
melodic line is gentle and controlled, charming but comparatively
There are a large number of recordings of Mozart’s Violin Concertos
in the catalogues. I have provided, as a rough guide, a list
of the more established sets that are likely to be encountered: Arthur
Grumiaux with the LSO under Sir Colin Davis on Philips; Itzhak
Perlman with the BPO on EMI; Takako Nishizaki with the Capella
Istropolitana under Stephen Gunzenhauser on Naxos; Anne-Sophie
Mutter with the BPO under Herbert von Karajan on Deutsche Grammophon;
Anne-Sophie Mutter with the LPO on Deutsche Grammophon; Monica
Huggett and the OAE on Virgin Classics; Simon Standage and the
AAM under Christopher Hogwood on L’Oiseau-Lyre; Henryk Szeryng
with the ASMF under Neville Marriner on Philips; Itzhak Perlman
with the VPO under James Levine on Deutsche Grammophon; Pamela
Frank with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under David Zinman
on Arte Nova; Cho-Liang Lin with the ECO under Raymond Leppard
on Sony; Yehudi Menuhin with the Bath Festival Orchestra on
EMI Seraphim and Thomas Zehetmair with the Philharmonia
Orchestra on Warner Classics Apex.
Another recently recorded set of the complete Mozart
Violin Concertos now receiving immense
attention but which I have yet to hear, is from Julia
Fischer with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under Yakov Kreizberg
on PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 064 (K216; K218; Adagio K.261;
Rondo K269) and PTC 5186 094 (K207; K211; K219).
For those wanting just one disc but not the complete
set of the concertos the field is dominated by two versions,
both on period-instruments, from Viktoria
Mullova on Philips and Fabio Biondi on Virgin Classics.
and directs her wonderful interpretations of Violin Concertos
Nos. 1, 3 and 4 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
on Philips 470 292-2. Recorded in 2001 in London, Mullova’s
exciting, stylish and characterful interpretations made a huge
impression on me. Playing a ‘Jules Falk’ Stradivarius (1723)
with gut strings and using a period bow, Mullova’s remarkable
playing at certain points on the release made the hairs stand
up on the back of my neck.
exhilarating, explosive and thought-provoking performances of
the first three concertos Fabio
Biondi performs and directs Europe Galante, recorded in 2005 in San Marcello, Italy
on Virgin Classics 3447062. Europa Galante are one of the very
finest and most exciting ensembles that have come to prominence
in the authentic-instrument scene in the last ten years or so.
Not a performance for the traditionalist Mozartian, Biondi provides
a most individual interpretation playing with a strong sense
of expressive freedom. He imaginatively and bravely chooses
to provide exciting and energetic playing with an often biting
attack; a risky approach that comes off with sheer perfection.
Biondi never loses his innate style and artistry with strongly
dramatic and colourful playing that comes across with the spontaneity
of a live performance, rather than mad-cap recklessness.
For the listener who prefers modern instrument performances
the leading complete set is unequivocally that from Arthur Grumiaux
and the London Symphony Orchestra
under Sir Colin Davis on Philips 438 323-2 (plus Adagio and
Rondo for violin and orchestra, K261 & K373; Sinfonia
concertante, K364). These evergreens are wonderfully satisfying,
being especially beautifully played with an abundance of vivacity
and expression, together with an appealing purity of tone. Grumiaux
made the recordings in London, 1961-64 and the forty year old
sound quality, in their digital transfers, stands up remarkably
Sinfonia concertante K364 was composed in Salzburg during
the summer of 1779 following Mozart’s return from Paris where
he had evidently been inspired by his visit to Mannheim. This
substantial three movement score may have been intended for
performance by violinist Antonio Brunetti and violist Joseph
its remarkably full and rich orchestration it deserves to be
better known. Described by Volker Scherliess as being, “distinguished
by its wealth of melodic invention,” the score is more technically
complex than its outward charm would suggest. It is hard to
fault the sensitive interpretation by Vengerov and Power.
Their playing in the Allegro maestoso seems to emerge
from the orchestra rather than display virtuosic domination.
The Andante is particularly
delectable with the interplay between the violin and viola conveying
the intimacy of a private conversation. In the closing Presto
the duo shun extrovert tendencies with playing of a controlled
but rather understated quality.
leading version of the Sinfonia concertante is the expressive
and characterful performance from Rafael Druian and Abraham
Skernick with Members of the Cleveland Orchestra under George
Szell. That recording was made at Cleveland, USA in 1963 and
is available on Sony SBK67177 (c/w. Sinfonia concertante,
K297b and Rondo, K269). I also admire the stylish interpretation
from Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman with the Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. The live performance was recorded
at the 1982 Huberman Festival for Deutsche Grammophon 415 486-2
(c/w Concertone, KV190).
virtuosity has been put carefully aside by the thoughtful Vengerov
who is heard here at his most mellow and beguiling in these
rather understated performances. My preference
is for Vengerov performing late-Romantic repertoire. I especially
enjoyed his 2002 London, Abbey Road recordings of the Britten
Violin Concerto and Walton Viola Concerto with
the LSO under Rostropovich on EMI Classics 5 57510 2. Vengerov
might wish to delight his supporters by continuing in the British
music vein with recordings of violin concertos from Elgar, Walton,
Bax, Bliss and Moeran.