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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat Major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, KV 364 (1779) [30:08]
Concertone in C Major for Two Violins and Orchestra, KV 180 (1774) [29:09]
Alan Loveday (violin), Stephen Shingles (viola), Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner (Sinfonia Concertante)
Emanuel Hurwitz and Eli Goren (violins), English Chamber Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis (Concertone).
rec. St. John's, Smith Square, London, UK, October 1970 (Sinfonia Concertante); London, UK, 1960 (Concertone). ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 8239 [59:27] 

Another lovely release from Australian Eloquence.  The real attraction here is the rarely heard Concertone, but the performance of the Sinfonia Concertante coupled to it should not be passed over.  Both recordings make their CD debut with this issue, and listening to this warm and involving playing, you have to wonder why they have languished in the back catalogue for so long. 

The probable answer is that, given the glut of Mozart recordings on the market, it is the ones with big name soloists that head the reissue queue.  The soloists in these two recordings seem to be drawn from within the orchestras.  Certainly none of them was familiar to me.  The big name here is Mozart.  Both Marriner and Davis lead sensitive, affectionate and unfussy accounts of the scores that are alive with Mozartian charm and freshness. 

The Sinfonia Concertante opens the disc, and finds the Academy in a warm, generous mood.  The soloists blend beautifully.  Stephen Shingles comes close to matching the breadth and warmth that a David Oistrakh or Rudolf Barshai brings to the viola part.  His tuning is not always impeccable in the first movement, but he comes into his own in the finale and is sensitive, though not profound, in the andante.  There is plenty of character to Alan Loveday's playing, and his violin has a winning sweetness of tone. 

The tempo of the opening movement is just about right, equal parts allegro and maestoso, without being either too pacy or haughty.  The tempo almost grinds to a halt on the solo violin figure about 5:30 through, a strange touch that is repeated when the viola echoes the violin a few bars later, but the tempo primo is soon restored and the odd pause is forgotten.  The orchestra, and in particular the horns, sound lovely.

The slow movement is quite lovely, with each soloist breathing his part in long sighing phrases and warm support from Marriner and co.  A little less in the tuttis from conductor and orchestra may have made his movement even more intimate.  There is a sudden slowing of tempo again around the seven minute mark, but this tempo manipulation is not as pronounced as Marriner's hard breaking in the first movement, and is much more effective as is gives way to a darkening of colours in the minor mode. 

The finale is bright and good humoured, and really flows like oil. 

This is old fashioned Mozart playing, but none the worse for that.  The Oistrakhs, father and son, on EMI Encore remain my pick in this piece and are available at roughly the same price, coupled with Oistrakh senior's monumental recording of the Brahms concerto with Klemperer.  I also have a soft for the Menuhin/Barshai performance, also on EMI, though the Decca sound is superior and Loveday's playing more secure than Menuhin's.

The attractions of this performance, however, are not to be underestimated, and are enhanced by the coupling with the Concertone.  The Oistrakh and Oistrakh version is not currently available, and in its absence, this recording is quite serviceable.  The attack of the London Symphony's violins in the opening chords may make you jump.  Adjust your volume control down a notch, and things will right themselves.  Almost.  The playing of the orchestra is more than decent in this performance and the two violinists, Hurwitz and Goren, are very well matched.  They weave their parts around each other and  inject plenty of verve into the outer movements, though there could be more grace to the slow movement. 

There are sonic reservations, though.  The 1970 recording of the Sinfonia Concertante is warm, plush vintage Decca analogue.  The Concertone, which follows, shows its age.  The sound in the latter recording is thin, with a harsh edge to he higher frequency sounds, a lack of bass and much less warmth overall.  This is a pity, because the performance itself is quite lovely, but getting through the “historical recording” sound quality takes some effort.  Once the ear adjusts, there is certainly no lack of commitment in the performance, but I am not sure all listeners will be willing to persevere.

Tim Perry



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