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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
CD 1
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207 (1773) [19:08]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K211 (1775) [17:31]
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major ‘Strassburg’, K216 (1775) [20.29]
CD 2
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218 (1775) [19:35]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major ‘Turkish’, K219 (1775) [24:13]
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major for violin and viola, K364 (1779) [27:31]
Giuliano Carmignola (violin)
Danusha Waskiewicz (viola, K364)
Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
rec. November 2007, Salone Bolognini, Bologna, Italy. DDD
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 7371 [57:36 + 71:45]
Experience Classicsonline

The eminent baroque violinist Giuliano Carmignola, a player so frequently associated with recordings of his Italian countryman Vivaldi, is here teamed up with the gifted young players of Orchestra Mozart, the Bologna based ensemble. It is not entirely clear from the information in the booklet if the orchestra is playing on period instruments. Some commentators in various publications have been uncertain too. Concertmaster of the Orchestra Mozart, Raphael Christ has been kind enough to clarify the situation for me, “Yes, the entire orchestra is playing on period instruments including the winds (oboes, horns, flutes).”
 
An enviable contrast is made by the renowned and charismatic Claudio Abbado, a conductor not generally associated with period instruments, who provides a wealth of experience and security of direction to the proceedings. Carmignola’s association with Maestro Abbado goes back to 1971, when as a then recent winner of the Vittorio Veneto competition, he was asked to play as soloist with the Maestro’s Orchestra della Scala.
 
The Treviso-born Carmignola has been a professor of violin at the Venice Conservatory for over ten years. In 1999 he was appointed professor of violin at the Lucerne Hochschule and is currently a professor of music at Siena's Accademia Musicale Chigiana. Renowned as a stylish player; as stylish as the fine Romeo Gigli suits that he is often photographed wearing. Without any hint of pretentiousness Carmignola’s playing is classy with an innate serious professionalism, as I recall from the year 2002 at Carmignola’s BBC Proms concert when disturbed by noise from a member of the audience he turned around and glared towards the perpetrator.
 
Carmignola has released several outstanding discs of Italian baroque music in recent years and is best known for his Vivaldi interpretations: see my reviews of Sony SK89362 & SK87733 and Archiv 4776005.

In addition Carmignola has recorded The Four Seasons to significant acclaim with the Venice Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Andrea Marcon on Sony SK 51352.
 
Although a sticker on the cover to this disc states, “Carmignola’s first recording of Mozart’s violin concertos”. Carmignola is, however, no stranger to the these Mozart scores having previously recorded the complete set in 1997 with the chamber orchestra Il Quartettone directed by Carlo de Martini. Carmignola was playing a 1733 Pietro Guarneri on the recording produced at San Martino, Italy on Brilliant Classics 92884 (c/w 2 Rondos, K261, K269 and Adagio, K373) (see review).
 
All five of Mozart’s violin concertos were written during his extremely difficult period of engagement as composer to the court orchestra of Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. It is not certain if the set was intended for his own use or for that of Salzburg Court Orchestra leader Antonio Brunetti. For many years it was generally thought that Mozart had composed all five violin concertos in 1775, however, it is generally acknowledged that Mozart wrote the Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207 as early as 1773; when he was just seventeen.
 
From the disc timings one notices that Carmignola and Abbado have elected to employ very swift tempos across the majority of the movements. The opening score on the set is the Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207, a work so infused with an abundance of melody. Carmignola effortlessly, with assurance, displays the considerable lyrical invention of the score. One notices that the Adagio is taken less slowly than the majority of the five versions that I used for comparison purposes and conversely the Presto is exceptionally quick.
 
In some quarters the Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K211 is acknowledged as the least adventurous of the set. The Allegro moderato is briskly taken. The beautifully refined Andante is gloriously played by Carmignola and the Rondo, finale has an abundance of exuberance.
 
Generally acknowledged as the favourite concerto of the set the final work on disc one is the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216. The G Major score is sometimes known as the ‘Strassburg’ as the third movement contains a rustic dance melody from a popular song of the day associated with the Alsatian city of Strassburg. Carmignola conveys a degree of intimacy and charm in the exuberant opening Allegro. Although the least slow of all the versions I know, the Adagio, which feels like it has evolved from a feeling of gracious sentiment, contains a dreamy quality with Carmignola providing a feather-light touch.
 
The opening work on disc two is the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218. Briskly interpreted by Carmignola and Abbado, Mozart’s long, flowing melodic lines are bold and crisply played by Carmignola. The interpretation of the sturdy Allegro is not without elegance, the Andante cantabile is given a radiant performance by Carmignola and I loved his sheer boldness in the Rondeau, finale.
 
Throughout the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major Turkish’, K219 one notices Carmignola’s considerable intensity of expression. The very swift Allegro aperto is performed by Carmignola with freshness and vitality and the briskly taken final movement Rondo contains a fleet and picturesque alla turca section, which gives the score its nickname.
 
There are a large number of recordings of Mozart’s Violin Concertos in the catalogues some of them complete sets. The finest collection of all five concertos, that will especially appeal to the listener who prefers modern instrument performances, is unequivocally that from Arthur Grumiaux and the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis on the Duo Series from Philips Classics 438 323-2 (c/w Adagio, K261; Rondo, K373; Sinfonia concertante, K364). These perennially fresh performances 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 between 1961-64 and the near fifty year old sound quality, in their digital transfers, stands up remarkably well. I would nominate this Grumiaux set as indispensable to any collection of serious music.
 
I have also enjoyed the digital recordings of the complete set of Mozart Violin Concertos with Thomas Zehetmair as soloist and director of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Recorded in 1990 and 1991 at the famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall at Aldeburgh for Teldec Classics, Zehetmair demonstrates an impressive affinity for these Mozart scores (Warner Classics, Apex 2564 64329-2). Included on this Zehetmair set is the contentious sixth Violin Concerto in the key of D major bearing the Köchel catalogue number K271a. This is a rarely-heard work of doubtful authenticity and one that remains the topic of much discussion (see review).
 
The majority of recordings of the Mozart Violin Concertos are single discs that contain a selection of two or three of the set of five. Of these the field is dominated by two straight period-instrument choices; Viktoria Mullova on Philips and Fabio Biondi on Virgin Classics, and a period-informed version on modern instruments from Maxim Vengerov on EMI Classics.
 
Viktoria Mullova performs and directs her wonderfully recommendable interpretations of Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1, 3 and 4 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on Philips 470 292-2. Recorded in 2001 at St. Jude’s Church, Hampstead in London, Mullova’s exciting, stylish and characterful interpretations left a huge impression on me. Playing a Jules Falk 1723 Stradivarius and using a period bow as well as gut strings Mullova’s burnished playing sustains a remarkable intensity of emotion that at certain points on the release made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
 
With exhilarating, explosive and thought-provoking performances of the Violin Concertos Nos. 1-3 Fabio Biondi performs and directs Europe Galante, recorded in 2005 in San Marcello, Italy on Virgin Classics 3 44706 2. Biondi and Europa Galante are one of the very finest and most exciting ensembles that have come to prominence at the cutting-edge of the authentic-instrument scene in the last fifteen years or so. Not a performance for the traditionalist Mozartian, Biondi provides a most individual interpretation with a strong sense of expressive freedom. With rapid tempi Biondi imaginatively and bravely provides most exciting and incredibly energetic playing with an often biting attack; a risky approach that comes off with aplomb. Notwithstanding, 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 (see review).
 
Another recommendable single disc of the Mozart Violin Concertos No. 2 and 4, and the Sinfonia concertante is from Maxim Vengerov directing, from the violin, the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. Returning from his sabbatical Vengerov made the recordings in 2006 at the Henry Wood Hall, London and also the Salle Métropole, Lausanne, Switzerland on EMI Classics 378374-2 (Sinfonia Concertante, K364). This is the first volume of a projected complete set of the Mozart violin concertos. Using modern instruments one senses that Vengerov with these controlled and unforced readings has approached these violin concertos conscious of the insights he has gained in historically-informed performance practice by studying intensively and working with the eminent early music specialists Trevor Pinnock and Rachel Podger. Dazzling virtuosity has been put carefully aside by the thoughtful Vengerov who is heard at his most mellow and beguiling in the measured speeds of these rather understated Mozart performances. I found the sound quality extraordinary, being warm and exceptionally clear (see review).
 
The set concludes with the Sinfonia concertante in E flat major for violin and viola, K364. Mozart composed this score in Salzburg during the summer of 1779 following his return from Paris, where he had evidently been inspired by his visit to Mannheim. The origins of the substantial three movement score are vague, although, it may have been intended for performance by Salzburg Court Orchestra members Antonio Brunetti and Joseph Hafeneder. The Sinfonia concertante has the viola tuned a semitone higher than usual and together with its remarkably full and rich orchestration it deserves to be better known. Described in 1985 by musicologist Dr. Volker Scherliess as being, “distinguished by its wealth of melodic invention … the Sinfonia concertante is one of the richest and most mature creations of his art.” One might notice that the score is more technically complex than its outward charm would suggest.
 
Immediately in the Sinfonia concertante one is aware of the outstanding orchestral contribution from Abbado’s Orchestra Mozart. The substantial opening movement marked Allegro maestoso is symphonic in its ambitions. Carmignola and the orchestra’s principal violist Danusha Waskiewicz communicate a wonderful bittersweet quality to the music. The elegiac writing of the glorious Andante contains profound introspection splendidly conveyed by the duo’s warm and assured playing. The bustling closing movement Presto, in the form of a Rondo, has a light-hearted quality interpreted in the manner of a brisk and vivacious dialogue by the partnership of Carmignola and Waskiewicz. Throughout the tempi are very brisk, overall over three minutes quicker than versions from Vengerov and Power on EMI, and Perlman and Zukerman on DG.
 
Of the alternatives it is hard to fault the sensitive 2006 Lausanne interpretation from the partnership of Vengerov and violist Lawrence Power on EMI Classics 378374-2. Their splendidly confident playing in the Allegro maestoso seems to emerge from the orchestra rather than provide virtuosic domination. The Andante movement is particularly delectable with the interplay between the two solo instruments conveying the intimacy of a private conversation. In the closing movement marked Presto the duo shun extrovert tendencies with playing of a controlled but rather understated quality.
 
Another leading version of K364 is the expressive and characterful performance from Rafael Druian and Abraham Skernick with Members of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. The evergreen 1963 recording was made at Cleveland, USA and is available on Sony SBK67177 (c/w Rondo, K269). I also greatly admire the stylish and confident interpretation from Itzhak Perlman and violist Pinchas Zukerman with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. This live performance was recorded at the 1982 Huberman Festival for Deutsche Grammophon 415 486-2 (c/w. Concertone, KV190).
 
Recorded in 1964 at London another splendid alternative for their assured musicianship is from Arthur Grumiaux and violist Arrigo Pellicia and the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis on the Philips Classics Duo 438 323-2 (c/w Adagio, K261; Rondo K373; five violin concertos).
 
Overall this lovingly performed set of the Mozart violin concertos on period instruments from Giuliano Carmignola on Archiv Produktion is one that can readily compete with the very finest versions in the catalogues. Employing generally swift tempos Carmignola provides controlled and stylish interpretations of vitality and freshness supported by the experience and sensitivity of Abbado and his orchestra. The inclusion of the Sinfonia concertante is a most welcome bonus. Generally I found this version to be closely recorded, clear and well balanced. I checked the sound quality on six standard CD players, as for some unknown reason, on a couple of my players the sound comes across as over-bright and sharply metallic. The booklet notes include an interview with Giuliano Carmignola on his working relationship with Abbado and unfortunately there is only a small amount of information provided on the scores themselves.
 
Michael Cookson


 


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