This CD offers very short playing time but we should absolve Claves of any criticism for this. We read in the booklet that it was hoped to include another item but it was not possible to arrange this before Abbado’s death. What we have here is quality rather than quantity.
These are among Abbado’s last recordings. I don’t know whether they are live or made under studio conditions. The fact that two separate venues were used over a period of a few days might suggest either live recordings or at least sessions linked to concerts. If these are live performances then the audience is completely silent.
Here Abbado is working with the Orchestra Mozart, a chamber ensemble founded in 2004 of which he was the first Artistic Director. Like the much larger Lucerne Festival Orchestra the membership of Orchestra Mozart reads like a Who’s Who of leading orchestral players, mainly from the crack European ensembles. So, for instance, Lucas Macías Navarro is the principal oboist of both the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. He’s an outstanding soloist in the Mozart concerto, offering fluent, agile playing in a beautifully nuanced account of the first movement. His oboe sings the lines in the slow movement in a completely winning fashion and the way he plays the little cadenza is gorgeous. In this movement and, indeed, throughout the concerto, his colleagues in the orchestra, under Abbado’s guiding hand, give him refined accompaniment. The sparkling finale is pure delight from start to finish.
For the Haydn Sinfonia Concertante Navarro is joined by three fellow principals of the Orchestra Mozart. Gregory Ahss is the orchestra’s concertmaster, a role he also undertakes with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Both Konstantin Pfiz and Guilhaume Santana are principals of Orchestra Mozart and founder members of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. With such a stellar team and Abbado on the podium what could possibly go wrong? Well, as you might expect, absolutely nothing goes wrong.
On the contrary, this is a completely successful performance of a piece that shows Haydn at his most engaging and entertaining. The interplay of the soloists in the first movement is a cause for delight, as is the stylish orchestral playing. This is truly music for pleasure. There’s refinement and wit in the playing, not least in the cadenza for all four solo instruments. The solo team display lovely cantabile playing in the Andante while the cheerful finale is as full of high spirits as Haydn surely intended. The performance as a whole is highly polished and great fun.
In all honesty, this is a disc about which little need be said. Don’t be put off by the short playing time. There are two excellent and completely enjoyable performances on this CD. It’s testimony to Claudio Abbado’s superb conducting – just as dedicated as if he’d been conducting the most profound Mahler or Bruckner symphony. It’s also evidence of his ability to get together top-rank orchestral players to make music to the very highest standards. The sound is good; the documentation is, perhaps understandably, focused on the artists rather than on the music itself.