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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Violin Concertos and Concertos for Wind
CD1 [63.29]
Horn Concertos Nos. 1
in D major, K412 (c.1786) [8.32];. 2 in E flat major, K417 (c.1787) [13.15]; 3 in E flat major, K447 (c.1786) [16.58]; 4 in E flat major, K495 (c.1786) [16.30]
David Pyatt (horn)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
Rondos for violin and orchestra in B flat major, K269 (1775) [6.56]; in C major, K373 (1781) [5.16]
Thomas Zehetmair (director and violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra
CD2 [62.04]
Violin Concertos Nos. 1 in B flat major, K207 (1773) [19.39]; 2 in D major, K211 (1775) [21.20]; 3 in G major, K216 (1775) [25.18]
Adagio for violin and orchestra in E major, K261 (1775) [6.05]
Thomas Zehetmair (director and violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra
CD3 [78.06]
Violin Concertos No. 4 in D major, K218 (1775) [21.29]; D major, K271a (1775?) [25.57]
Thomas Zehetmair (director and violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 (1775) [30.20]
Vadim Repin (violin)
Vienna Chamber Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin
CD4 [72.42]
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 (1791) [30.01]
Sharon Kam (clarinet)
Württemburg Chamber Orchestra/Jörg Färber
Oboe Concerto in C major, K314 (1777) [19.23]
Pierre Pierlot (oboe)
English Chamber Orchestra/Jean-Pierre Rampal
Bassoon Concerto in B flat major (1774) [18.57]
Pierre Hogue (bassoon)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Andante for flute and orchestra in C major (1777), K315
Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
CD5 [77.09]
Flute Concertos Nos. 1 in G major, K313 (1777) [25.51]; 2 in D major (1777) [20.45]
Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Theodor Guschlbauer
Concerto for flute, harp and orchestra in C major, K299 (1777) [30.50]
Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute), Lily Laskine (harp)
Orchestre de Chambre Jean-François Paillard/Jean-François Paillard
Recorded November 1964, Erato Studio Paris (K299); May 1966, Brahms-Saal, Musikverein, Vienna (K313-5); August 1990, Snape Maltings, Suffolk (K261, K269, K373); August 1991, Snape Maltings, Suffolk (K207, K218, K271a); December 1966, Air Studios, London K412, K417, K447, K495); October 1997, Casino Zögernitz, Vienna (K211, K219); December 1997, Evangelische Stadtkirche, Schwaigern (K622); February 2004, Stadthalle Gemering (K216)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62333-2 [5 CDs: 63.29 + 62.04 + 78.06 + 72.42 + 77.09]

 

 

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.

Mozart’s string 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.

Mozart responded 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.

Terry Barfoot

 



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