Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra
CD 1
Violin Concerto No. 1 in BI, K.207† [20:16]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D, K.211† [19.17]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K.219
CD 2
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K.216 [23:37]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K.218 [22:29]
Adagio for Violin and Orchestra in E, K.261 [7:55]
Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in B, K.269 [6:23]
CD 3
Sinfonia concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E, K.364 [29:56]
Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in B, K.364* [5:58]
Concertone for 2 Violin and Orchestra in C, K.190*‡ş [27:27]
Julia Fischer (violin), *Gordan Nikolic (concert master – violin, viola), †Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord), ‡Hans Meyer (oboe), şHerre Jan Stegenga (cello)
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Yakov Kreizberg
rec. Mennonite Church, Harlem, Netherlands, 2005-2007.
PENTATONE PTC 5186 453 SACD [3 CDs: 69:46 + 60:45 + 63:35 + DVD]

What was supposed to be a paean to Julia Fischer’s recording of Mozart’s Violin Concertos, must turn into a tribute to her musical collaborator in these recordings, the American conductor Yakov Kreizberg. Kreizberg Bychkov, born in Leningrad on 24 October 1959, died on 15 March 2011 only 51 years old. Outwardly the very model of the energetic, charismatic, virile maestro, he had for years fought the cancer to which he now succumbed.

He was the estranged brother of conductor Semyon Bychkov, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1975 — thus jeopardizing Yakov’s budding career and essentially compelling their parents’ divorce so that Yakov and his mother could immigrate to New York. He took well enough to the US, studied at the Mannes College and Ann Arbor, became a naturalized citizen in 1982, became a Leonard Bernstein protégé, and won the Leopold Stokowski Conducting Competition in New York four years later. (Read Tim Page’s preview of the competition in the New York Times.)

His career took him back to Europe where he made his slow and steady way up through appointments at orchestras and theaters outside the limelight. 1988 – 1994 in Krefeld, Germany. 1994 – 2001 at the Komische Oper Berlin. 1995 – 2000 as Principal Conductor with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (succeeding Andrew Litton and preceding Marin Alsop), 2003 – 2011 as Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2007 he was appointed as Director of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, starting with the 2009/10 season and meant to run, initially, until 2014/15.

The gorgeous-looking conducting of Kreizberg, the Hugh Jackman of conducting, was a picture-perfect version of the dashing, ever-engaged young maestro. Occasionally it seemed over the top, bordering caricature … perhaps an unfortunate left-over from the Bernstein tutoring that also marks Marin Alsop’s podium convulsions.

He had a long working relationship with the audiophile label PentaTone for which he recorded 16 discs, among the most notable being Franz Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony (5186015), and Julia Fischer’s recording debut with the concertos of Khachaturian, Prokofiev (No.1), and Glazunov (5186059) and the Mozart Violin Concertos with Julia Fischer with whom he enjoyed a very close working relationship. Pentatone has recently issued the three (Super Audio) recordings—Concertos One through Five, the Sinfonia Concertante, the Concertone for two violin, the Adagio (K.261) and Rondo (K.269) for violin and orchestra — in one thick fold-out digipak and they also throw in a DVD of recording sessions.

Since the recordings came out between in 2005 and 2007 they have been somewhere near the top of my Mozart heap — amid big name competition from Shlomo Mintz (Avie), Anne-Sophie Mutter (DG), Leonidas Kavakos (Sony), and quite recently Thomas Zehetmair (Glossa).

Julia Fischer’s approach is clean but not skimpy, fleet but not hasty, beautiful and warm but not thickly put on. A modern take on a traditional way of playing Mozart with a nod, but not subscribing to, ‘historically informed performance’ practice. Leonidas Kavakos who leads and plays with the Salzburg Camerata makes the concertos sound a little lighter and tauter than Fischer and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, lead by Kreizberg, or the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century (under Zehetmair and Frans Brüggen). The direct, dryer acoustic on the Sony recording adds to that. Kavakos’s steely-yet-light tone makes him more a first violinist among his players whereas Fischer is distinctly a soloist. PentaTone’s sound quality has been impeccable in all of Fischer’s recordings and gives the Dutch orchestra plenty of space.

Mme. Mutter’s recording, meanwhile, has ego written all over it and occasionally sounds like a wild cat thrown into a cellar from a trapdoor above, claws ready. She’s a kitten with attitude in almost every note, but it turns out to be one of the more curiously successful recordings, partly because it’s not as darn conventional as so much other Mozart … including Fischer’s. Mintz has a more sweetly vigorous approach and like Fischer is more prone to let the natural beauty of the music speak for itself, but he can’t match the technical prowess of Fischer or Mutter.

The overall excellence of Thomas Zehetmair’s bona-fide “HIP” recording can’t mask my disappointment that the result isn’t better than it is. I had hoped for something extraordinarily fresh; in-your-face Mozart even. Something along the lines of what Andrew Manze achieved with his 2006 Mozart concerto recording. What we get is loveliness and refinement and elegance in good, never ostentatious measure. But the bite and exuberance that has made the same combination of artists’ Beethoven Concerto recording my absolute favorite (Best of 2010) is missing. Not that Fischer and Kreizberg offer that, but then that’s nothing I ever expected from their blend of the pristine with sheer beauty — and for civilized loveliness alone the latter’s is the preferred choice. Interestingly it is the Kreizberg/Fischer recording, not Zehetmair’s that recorded the first two concertos with the harpsichord (Pieter-Jan Belder) … which suits these post-baroque-ish works very well.

Jens F. Laurson
Critic-at-Large for Classical WETA 90.9 FM, Washington D.C.

Near the top of my Mozart heap — amid Mintz, Mutter, Kavakos and Zehetmair.

see also reivew of the individual issue of concertos 3 & 4 (PTC5186064) by Jonathan Woolf