Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART(1756-1791)
Horn Concertos nos.: 1 in D major, K412/514 (K386b) (1791-2) [8:00];
2 in E flat major, K417 (1783) [13:39]; 3 in E flat major, K447
(1787) [14:55]; 4 in E flat major, K495 (1786) [16:31]
Alessio Allegrini (horn)
Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
rec. location unspecified. June 2005, Feb 2006, June 2007, DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8083 [53:20]
From the opening movement of the First Concerto
Orchestra Mozart’s response is ever alert. Its playing
is light, clean in articulation and, where appropriate, robust.
Claudio Abbado brings an invigorating energy to the orchestral
contribution. This is delicate yet also pointed, lyrical yet
also has a masculine quality, as in the development of the opening
theme (tr. 1 from 2:00). The soloist, Alessio Allegrini, confirms
the fundamentally joyous nature of the music-making with a quite
broad, fruity yet still refined tone. It’s a mellow sound
and he contrasts pleasingly with the orchestra by being more
laid-back; something he can do owing to the sheer assurance
of his phrasing. Allegrini is given a close recording focus
so the effect is that of the orchestra appearing as a garland
around the spot-lit soloist. The only other movement, a Rondo
awaiting revision at Mozart’s death, was revised and elaborated
by his amanuensis Franz Süssmayr. This is even more buoyant.
It’s also a touch ostentatious in its witticisms such
as the quirky wisps of accompanying violin semiquavers (tr.
2 from 2:06) and the lively string bass variation on the theme
near the close (from 2:53). Soloist and orchestra take all this
in their stride. The soloist gives the lead in friendly, companionable
I compared the late 1990s recording by R.J. Kelly and the American
Classical Orchestra/Thomas Crawford (Nimbus NI2568/70). Crawford’s
strings have greater sheen and a more penetrating tone than
those of Abbado. Might this be because Orchestra Mozart, though
fine historically informed performance exponents, aren’t
as uniformly a period instrument orchestra as the Crawford players?
Kelly’s horn is more naturally balanced in the recording
acoustic and is also a true natural horn. Allegrini, as can
be seen from the cover photograph, plays a valve horn. Consequently
Kelly is overall less rounded and assured than Allegrini. You
are aware of the difficulty in playing.
What’s striking in Horn Concerto 2 is Allegrini’s
sustained line and lyricism in the opening movement. It’s
down to light articulation and a rounded tone. That lyricism
also encompasses a latent thoughtful vein. Here is exemplary
legato and poised, philosophic playing. Without the complexity
it has something of the emotional ambience of an aria. You also
appreciate the transparency of Abbado’s accompaniment.
He achieves a blend of vigour associated with bracing tuttis
and delicacy from the airy strings.
For all that their slow movement is a mite too slow, though
I can’t say it isn’t the marked Andante.
Allegrini and Abbado go for a sotto voce approach. It’s
beautifully done, but the line is sufficiently pointed in its
expressiveness to be impeded and self-conscious. Mozart’s
line is smoother than it’s made to sound here. I prefer
Kelly and Crawford’s slightly faster (2:53 against 3:38),
more natural and unaffected manner. That said, Kelly lacks Allegrini’s
beauty of tone or smoothness of execution. Allegrini and Abbado’s
rondo finale, a quieter sibling of the famous one in the Horn
Concerto 4, is blithe and skipping. Allegrini supplies his own
frothily light-footed cadenza. The breaking up of the line,
the hesitations and repetitions are Mozart’s and a perfect
The opening movement of Horn Concerto 3 has a more complex,
discursive orchestral introduction. This also extends to the
horn part. There’s a winsome second theme (tr. 6, 0:21)
and a graceful codetta (0:52) to the exposition. These linger
in the memory for all their brevity. The ubiquitous clarity
of Abbado’s accompaniment makes Mozart’s change
of scoring from oboes to clarinets quite striking. The opening
movement’s many varieties of mood are well caught as the
horn sensitively probes and extends the experience. The amicable
matching of soloist and orchestra in conversation is a joy.
This can be felt even in the more reflective development (2:54)
in which the weight of thought is in the horn’s succession
of sustained notes. Allegrini provides his own frolicsome, superbly
dextrous cadenza, at 1:02 for a movement taking 7:21. Arguably
it’s a little fulsome but it suitably reflects the dominance
of the horn in furthering the musical argument. By contrast
the slow movement Romance is largely and deliciously the simplest
of rondo melodies. Even here the horn can supply moments of
greater rigour. This can be felt in the sforzandi sustained
notes which cut across the orchestral texture from 2:27 in the
extension of the second episode. In general Allegrini displays
a guileless, and utterly contented lyricism but how he makes
the horn sing! Abbado supplies accompaniment of the utmost delicacy.
It’s notable too how right a progressive approach to the
Larghetto marking sounds. Timing at 4:07 this movement
is lovelier and more convincing than Kelly and Crawford’s
4:55. In comparison it sounds rather dozy. Allegrini’s
and Abbado’s rondo finale has a relaxed, bubbly joviality.
These episodes culminate in cantering strings and chuckling
horn-calls. As with all great virtuosi Allegrini makes it all
sound so easy.
Horn Concerto 4 has a sprightly orchestral introduction.
Its codetta (tr. 9 1:08) is benignly repeated by the soloist
doubling the oboe just before he enters with his solo proper.
This early appearance is marked piano but with a recording
balance here favouring the soloist it stands out awkwardly lacking
the contentment it has gained by its repeat at the very end
of the movement (7:27). Come the solo proper, however, all is
wonderfully assured playing and a musical line at ease with
itself. To the slow movement Romance Allegrini brings a serene
musing. His sotto voce shading has a faraway, visionary
quality. A slowish Andante here suits the music better
than in Concerto 2. Allegrini displays graceful ornamental embellishments
to repeated phrases from 1:33. The famous Rondo Finale starts
quietly, soon skips along, yet has an underlying sense of unassailable
calm seemingly retained from the slow movement. At the same
time Allegrini is able to provide in the second episode at 1:46
one ornamented repeat of a phrase which is both outrageous and
Documentation could be better: we’re not told which concerto
was recorded when or where. These are live recordings, as suggested
by the cover photograph and applause at the end of Concerto
4. However nowhere are told that.
That said, here is glorious horn playing with alert, intelligent
and sensitive orchestral backing. You won’t find better.
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