In this five-CD
collection of the string and wind concertos, Warner Classics
celebrates the 250th Anniversary of Mozart’s birth.
This is one of a whole host of such issues. Attractively presented
in a slim box with accompanying booklet, there are some most
appealing performances gathered over a period between 1966 and
2004, but always in perfectly acceptable sound, if not better.
concertos date from his Salzburg years, around 1775, and as
such represent the first flowering of his true genius. The collection
includes all the solo concertos, but not the greatest piece
of all, the Sinfonia Concertante, K364. There is logic
behind this, to be sure, but a certain disappointment still
lurks in the mind, and rival sets can offer this repertoire
if required, for example the excellent Philips collection led
by Arthur Grumiaux, or more complete still is the Sony set in
which Isaac Stern leads the way.
On Warner Classics
most, but not all, the violin concertos are performed by Thomas
Zehetmair with the Philharmonia Orchestra. The recorded sound
brings out the subtleties and the sure technique of his interpretations,
with a balance between solo and ensemble that is appropriate
to the musical style. Zehetmair also includes the ‘doubtful’
Concerto, K271a, which sounds particularly well in his performance,
making out a firm case for its inclusion in the canon.
Vadim Repin is the
soloist in the Fifth Concerto, in which he is joined by Yehudi
Menuhin and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, whereas Zehetmair
directs the other performances himself. Menuhin was a fine conductor
of the classical repertoire and his collaboration with Repin
is successful in bringing out the stylistic features of this
wonderful concerto. The latter’s playing too is assured and
sensitive. There are abundant recordings of the string concertos
by all the leading violinists of recent times, but these can
hold their own in the face of the competition.
The earliest recordings
gathered here date from the mid-1960s: Jean-Pierre Rampal in
the flute concertos. A rightly famous flautist, Rampal has magnificent
breath control and phrases the music to perfection, always with
appropriate tempi. Along with his recording of the Flute and
Harp Concerto from 1964, these 1966 ex-Erato recordings are
the earliest among the collection, and they still sound well.
If the solo lines seem rather spotlighted that is a trend that
is still alive in the 21st century. These concertos
were always coupled and were in their time a top recommendation.
The double concerto for example won high praise, and the collaborations
with both Paillard and Guschlbauer are sensitive in either case
to the particular stylistic demands. This is by no means Mozart’s
greatest music but it does have abundant charm and taste. In
the Flute and Harp Concerto, has the slow movement in particular
ever been better done?
In the summer of
1777 Mozart composed his Oboe Concerto for Giuseppe Ferlendis,
an itinerant Italian player who had entered the service of the
Archbishop of Salzburg two years before. He later arranged the
work as a concerto for flute (the Concerto No. 2). This was
in response to a commission from the talented Dutch flautist
Ferdinand De Jean, in which version the music has secured an
equal prominence (see above).
The Oboe Concerto
makes much of the soloist's virtuosity in the lively outer movements.
When taken up by the oboe the themes are given a splendidly
imaginative and decorative development. While the relationship
between orchestra and solo is hardly Mozart's most subtle example
of concerto form, the music is always ideally balanced, the
melodic material deft and spontaneous. Few players are better
suited to this concerto than Pierre Pierlot; and it is interesting
to note that this recording features Jean-Pierre Rampal as conductor.
Again the soloist is somewhat larger than life thanks perhaps
to the recorded perspective.
The bassoon has
not attracted many composers to write concertos, since its nature
seldom invites display. The exception was Antonio Vivaldi, who
wrote some forty bassoon concertos. In truth the instrument
is difficult to balance in a concertante role, because of its
dark tone and manner of projection. Mozart may have used concertos
by minor German composers, such as Fasch and Ritter, as models,
but there is no clear evidence. In any case the fluency of his
Concerto in B flat transcends mere imitation, even though he
was only eighteen when he wrote it.
most imaginatively to the challenge of composing a bassoon concerto.
The music exudes confidence, and so does this performance by
Paul Hogue. The recording achieves a skilful blend and balance
with the orchestra of strings, oboes and horns, for which all
praise to both the Erato engineers and the conductor, Theodor
Guschlbauer. The bassoon part is demanding in its dexterity;
Hogue makes it all seem effortless but at the same time full
of character. This under-valued piece is well served here.
The horn concertos
offer the listener a quite different experience, partly because
they date from the 1780s and the years of his maturity in Vienna,
and partly because the nature of the solo instrument means different
priorities will take over. David Pyatt assumes an esteemed position
in a performing tradition that goes back via Alan Civil and
Barry Tuckwell to Dennis Brain, while Sir Neville Marriner and
the Academy of St Martin in the Fields are just as sympathetic
as collaborators as their reputations would suggest. These are
splendid performances in every way, entering a crowded market
place with confidence.
Mozart was often
inspired to write concertos for his friends; in the case of
those for horn the friend in question was Ignaz Leutgeb, who
like him moved from Salzburg and lived in Vienna during the
1780s. It was during these years that Mozart composed all his
horn concertos. In Vienna Leutgeb played the horn on an occasional
basis while earning his living as a cheesemonger, having set
up in business with the aid of a loan from Mozart's father Leopold.
Beyond the four concertos lurk various fragments, but these
are not included here.
There remains the
Clarinet Concerto. Recorded in 1997, Sharon Kam and the Württemburg
Chamber Orchestra bring freshness and skill to their performance.
Tempi and phrasing are beautifully judged; so too the balancing
of solo and orchestra.
What is disappointing
is that the rather thin documentation tells us nothing of the
instrument used by Kam in her recording of the concerto. Mozart’s
friend Anton Stadler preferred the basset clarinet with its
darker tone, but it sounds as though a modern A-clarinet is
used here. There is nothing in particular wrong with that, of
course, but it would have been better to have been told. Given
the nature of the competition, this omission must be judged
a disappointment, as must the booklet as a whole. There is good
musical and historical judgement behind Julian Haylock’s accompanying
essay, but the word length to which he has been forced to write
has made blandness inevitable. In the larger scheme of things,
such as the quality of the performances and the attractive price,
this is a small caveat; but it represents a false economy and
it is not without importance. Even so, this collection makes
a welcome appearance as the anniversary year dawns.