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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major K216 (1775) [21:10]
Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in E flat major K364 (1779) [29:51]
Adagio in E major K261 (1776) [6:03]
Rondo in C major K373 (1781) [5:10]
Duo for violin and viola No.1 in G major K423 (1783) [18:56]
Duo for violin and viola No.2 in B flat major K424 (1783) [21:40]
Philippe Graffin (violin)
Nobuko Imai (viola)
Brabant Philharmonic Orchestra/Philippe Graffin
rec. Eindhoven, 26, 27, 29 June 2006 (concertos); Deventer, 22-23 June 2006 (duos)
AVIE AV 2127 [62:47 + 40:45]

I recently reviewed the high profile recording of K364 made by Maxim Vengerov and Laurence Power and have to say I much prefer this Graffin-Imai traversal. It’s more natural in expression, lacks idiosyncratic quirks, and goes deeper. The acoustic is rather too boomy for my liking but there are numerous felicities that compensate. There’s a slightly military snap to things and the Mannheim crescendos have a real swagger about them. Then there are the horns of the Brabant Philharmonic, which are on particularly engaging form. Most prominent of course is the tonal congruity between the soloists, which lends the slow movement a sense of refined gravity. The finale is finely judged and not at all declamatory. There’s a particularly relishable legato sweep to the phrasing here that compels admiration. So too is the way Graffin, soloist and director, refuses to indulge metrical or other worrisome features.

He is the soloist and director once more in the G major concerto. The robust and resonant acoustic is again not quite to my liking but it actually rather suits the nature of the performance. Graffin has a small, sweet and concentrated tone capable of refined colour and he projects sympathetically. It’s particularly good to see that he has arranged Ysaÿe’s first movement cadenzas here – it’s seldom played and well worth hearing once in a while, if not all the time. The other cadenzas are by Graffin. The warm string moulding in the slow movement is admirable and Graffin is able to imbue the orchestral fabric generally with considerable feeling. I would question some rather distended first movement phrasing and the fact that the finale can sound, in part, just a little rushed. Both the Adagio and Rondo, so difficult to programme in concert but perfect on disc, are splendidly dispatched – and with thoughtful perception as well as fine tone.

The second disc lasts only forty minutes but is devoted to the two magnificent duos. Here we hear the two soloists at their most fluent and expressive. Imai has the potential to over-balance Graffin but her rich tone is a joy to hear; fortunately the balance remains true. Both musicians balance the extrovert and interior aspects of these big works remarkably well. Those with long memories will recall the Grumiaux and Pelliccia recording – as they will indeed their Sinfonia Concertante with Colin Davis.

These are enjoyable performances – not spotless it’s true but nevertheless engaging and often vibrant. The programming is suitably novel and idiosyncratic to render rival versions pretty meaningless, so if you admire the two string players you will find nourishment in their Mozart playing.

Jonathan Woolf


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