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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Double Concerti, K.365. K.505 & K. Anh.56/315f
Concerto for two pianos & orchestra in E-flat major, K365/316a (1780) [24:54]
“Ch’io mi scordi di te?...Non temer, amato bene” for soprano, piano obligato & orchestra K505 (1786) [11:20]
Concerto for violin, piano & orchestra in D major, K. Anh.56/315f (completed by Philip Wilby) (1778) [27:50]
Iris van Wijnen (mezzo-soprano)
Louis Lortie, Frank Braley, Victoria Vassilenko (piano)
Vladyslava Luchenko (violin)
Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel
Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn/Kaspar Zehnder
rec. live, 20 March 2019 & 11 March 2020, Palais des Congrès, Bienne
FUGA LIBERA FUG766 [64:07]

The booklet accompanying this issue seems shy about giving us information as I have never seen such a miniscule font size employed in notes; the Fuga Libera label seems oblivious to the fact that the majority of classical music lovers are of a certain age and without 20-20 vision.

According to the blurb on the back cover of the slim cardboard case, behind this recording was “the ambitious idea of programming Mozart’s double concertos with the original feature of partnering an established artist with emerging talent” – a laudable aim as long as the result merits a recording in addition to a live performance, I would say.

A number of famous pianists have joined forces to record K. 365; my own introduction to it was the Gilels father and daughter team on DG, and a couple of years ago I was delighted by this recording from Valerie Tryon and Peter Donohoe (review). Likewise, the concert aria, adapted from an aria for Idamante in Idomeneo, has frequently been recorded by some eminent Mozartian sopranos including Kiri Te Kanawa, Elly Ameling and Edith Mathis. The Concerto for Violin and Piano is obviously a rarer beast, Mozart having left it unfinished, virtually a fragment. There is another completion by the American musicologist and pianist Robert D. Levin; this one, by British composer Philip Wilby and published in 1985, has more often been recorded and one of those recordings was positively reviewed fifteen years ago on MWI by Jonathan Rohr and I refer you to that review for more information regarding the reconstruction.

Enough background; to the recordings themselves: the orchestra plays at modern pitch but eschews vibrato, so if, like me, you don’t relish the resultant element of whine, be warned. The sound is predictably vivid but the horns are very prominent in the balance and in the opening double concerto the pianos themselves are very resonant to the point of being over-clangourous; I prefer both the acoustic and the smoothness of the Somm recording. I have no qualms about the quality of the pianism, however; this is fluid, joyous, upbeat playing of great virtuosity. Nonetheless, comparison between this orchestra and the RPO and the VPO reveals greater dynamic subtlety and variation in the phrasing of the latter two; the orchestra here is a bit relentlessly gung ho. The Andante is somewhat lacking in tenderness and poetry compared with the Gilels duo and there is a rather sour clarinet and string tone which is far from sweet. The Rondo finale is perky and the pianists do sterling work, but again, I am not enthralled by the orchestral playing.

The accompaniment to the concert aria suffers from similarly under-nourished, groaning strings but that’s not the main problem. One over-riding issue compromises the singing of the vocal soloist – and if I have any regular readers of my vocal critiques, they will know what I am about to say next, as I never tire of pointing out that a wobble is no substitute for a properly produced vibrato. Comparison with the likes of Te Kanawa or Mathis reveals a difference tantamount to the contrast between night and day. I won’t belabour the point.

For some, the completion of the violin-piano concerto fragment is a sterile, academic exercise which yields no special pleasure but my colleague above clearly found much to enjoy in it. My own appreciation of the recording here continues to compromised by the orchestral contribution and there are minor flaws in the violinist’s playing which are perhaps inevitable during a live performance from a young artist but she is the first violinist in the orchestra, so no novice, and in a recording the squawks can become too irksome for repeated playing. I certainly admire Philip Wilby’s skill in concocting a convincing pastiche but the result is essentially conventional and not very memorable, as there are none of those typically Mozartian moments which make the listener catch his or her breath. The best movement is the central Andante Cantabile, which has an attractive poise and lyricism.

Overall, I cannot disguise my disappointment with this album; I will take down other performances from my shelves when I want to hear any of these three works.

Ralph Moore

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