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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207 (1773) [19.24]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major Turkish, K219 (1775) [28.10]
Sinfonia concertante in E flat major for violin and viola, K364 (1779) [29.29]
Vilde Frang (violin); Maxim Rysanov (viola) (K364)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
rec. 3-5 April 2014, Saint Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, U.K.
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 627677 [77.24]

Following a number of recordings of Romantic repertoire on Warner Classics, Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang turns her attention from Prokofiev and Sibelius and Tchaikovsky and Nielsen to Mozart. Accompanying is the impressive chamber orchestra Arcangelo directed by Jonathan Cohen, its founder and artistic director. Cohen informs me that Arcangelo play using aspects of period performance practice. Gut strings are fitted and natural horns are included in the complement even if modern oboes are used. Soloists Frang and Maxim Rysanov play instruments fitted with modern strings and set-ups.

All five of Mozart’s violin concertos were written during his extremely difficult period in the employment of Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. As well as a keyboard virtuoso Mozart was an accomplished violinist. It is not certain whether the set was intended for his own use or for the Salzburg Court Orchestra whose leader was Antonio Brunetti. For many years it was generally acknowledged that Mozart had composed all five violin concertos in 1775 aged nineteen. It is now thought that Mozart wrote the Violin Concerto No. 1, K207 as early as 1773 when he was just seventeen.

The opening score here is the Violin Concerto No. 1, a work alive with an abundance of melody. Frang’s effortless control and calm assurance complements Mozart’s lyrical invention. Meltingly beautiful in the Adagio Frang’s playing has a golden tone. As for the Finale it feels both fresh and colourful as it gallops along with abandon.

Throughout the opening movement of the Violin Concerto No. 5 one notices Frang’s bold, confident playing and intensity of expression. She brings crystalline quality to the near meditative slow movement. Especially enjoyable is the stately final Rondeau which includes a vivacious Turkish section that lends the score its nickname.

There are a considerable number of Mozart’s Violin Concertos in the catalogues. Complete sets often include the Sinfonia concertante, K364. My first choice is played on period instruments by renowned baroque violinist Giuliano Carmignola. His controlled and stylish interpretations also boast vitality and freshness. Carmignola is supported by the experience and sensitivity of Claudio Abbado and his Orchestra Mozart. Carmignola is paired with violist Danusha Waskiewicz. The set was recorded in 2007 at Salone Bolognini, Bologna by Archiv Production (Deutsche Grammophon). Of the modern instrument performances my unequivocal first choice is Arthur Grumiaux and the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis. The set includes an assured account of K364 in which with Grumiaux is paired with Arrigo Pellicia. Recorded in London in 1961/64 the excellent ADD transfers sound splendid on Philips Classics.

Frang concludes the present release with the Sinfonia concertante. Mozart, who was proficient on both violin and viola, composed the score in Salzburg during the summer of 1779. The origins of the substantial three movement E flat major score are vague, although, it may have been intended for performance by Salzburg Court Orchestra members Antonio Brunetti and Joseph Hafeneder. The substantial opening movement marked Allegro maestoso is rather symphonic in its ambitions. With mutual understanding Frang and Rysanov revel in the bittersweet writing. This is glorious playing and cleanly articulated. Profound introspection imbues the Andante played with captivating accomplishment by the duo. The vibrant closing Presto has a joyous quality displaying impressive interplay between the two soloists.

Of the alternative accounts of the Sinfonia concertante it is hard to fault the sensitive and assured 2006 Lausanne recording from Maxim Vengerov and Lawrence Power on EMI Classics. Another leading account is the characterful performance from Rafael Druian and Abraham Skernick with Members of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. This evergreen 1963 recording was made in Cleveland, USA and can be heard on Sony. I also admire the stylish and confident account from Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. This was recorded live at the 1982 Huberman Festival for Deutsche Grammophon.

This splendidly recorded Warner Classics release has satisfying clarity and balance. With rock-steady intonation and gorgeously pure tone Frang plays with real accomplishment. The orchestral contribution is outstanding and sustains its focus splendidly. Although I own a considerable number of recordings of the Mozart Violin Concertos and Sinfonia concertante I will certainly be reaching regularly for this outstanding disc. My only regret is that Frang and Arcangelo did not include Mozart’s remaining three violin concertos to complete the set. Perhaps a volume 2?

Michael Cookson



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