RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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 playing.
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 tease.
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 admirable.
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.
Glorious horn playing with alert, sensitive orchestral backing.