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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K216 (1775) [23:59]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, Turkish K219 (1775) [27:49]
So Jin Kim (violin/leader)
Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester
rec. 2019, Epiphanias Kirche, Mannheim

A new name to many, So Jin Kim’s press release states that this Korean-American violinist has been praised by critics and audiences alike. There are references to her “powerful interpretation ... and flawless sound” (Cuxhavener Nachrichten) and “creating tones of poetry” (The Strad Korea). Her début CD with David Fang “The Grand Duo” (Genuin), includes Schubert’s D940, was released in 2018. It drew “raving reviews” from publications including Klassik Radio Austria, Klassik Heute and Das Orchester. It’s another disc, I’d love to hear.

At the lunch held for Thomas Beecham’s seventieth birthday, congratulatory telegrams, including some from composers, were read to him. When the applause died down, Beecham asked gently, “Nothing from Mozart?”. For all of Beecham’s renown as a conductor of Delius and Handel, Mozart was central to his repertory. Indeed, Beecham explored his heights and depths, and Mozart, in turn, gave Beecham the most generously proportioned avenue for displaying his artistry. Beecham said that Mozart introduced into music “an intimacy, a masculine tenderness, unique—something confiding, affectionate.” Beneath the conductor’s brilliant exterior, this was a quality Beecham shared with the composer, endearing him to his players and audiences. It seems remarkable to us nowadays, but before WW2, Mozart was under-appreciated and thought to be a composer of pretty tunes. Thus Beecham, Schnabel and earlier Mahler were pioneers in Mozart performance. It’s in recognition of So Jin Kim’s Mozart that I place her in this pantheon.

On her latest recording So Jin Kim presents Mozart’s popular Violin Concertos KV 216 & 219. In all, Mozart composed five of the authentic violin concertos in nine months aged 19. Along with an early favourite, Symphony 29 K209, these are the first “mature” works. What is astonishing is that in such a short time Mozart progresses so much with the Third Concerto, after two less developed works, K207, K211.

So Jin Kim writes of her new release that Mozart’s music led her to discover a love for music at a young age. “His music has been and continues to be a source of calm, inspiration and motivation throughout my life and career.” These are words with which I fully concur, having been exposed to the “Dennis Brain/Karajan Horn Concertos” and these works at a very tender age. The recording of K216 would, I believe, have been with Gioconda de Vito (married to producer David Bicknell) under Sir Thomas Beecham in 1949. This is a much-prized recording and, is part of the indispensable 10 CD set The Classical Tradition - also on Naxos (review). I played this recording after the Ars Produktion disc and both are very fine performances. So Jin Kim hopes that this recording conveys her love for and appreciation of his music and it certainly does. Mozart composed his third violin concerto, K. 216 at the age of 19, most likely for himself or his father. The concerto explores more adventurous ideas compared to his first two violin concertos while staying true to the classical structure. It displays Mozart’s distinct operatic charm and serenade style; a style that is prevalent in many of his compositions leading up to the violin concertos. As Mozart does so expertly in his serenade writing, expansive melodies and ideas succeed each other in blissful simplicity transcending time and form. A feast of melodies in the final movement and the subdued ending is always a surprise, the kind that prompted Salieri to comment that Mozart should end with a bang, as did, Mozart’s great admirer Tchaikovsky. It is noticeable that there is far more flexibility with So Jin Kim and her orchestra of around 25 than in old favourites such as David Oistrakh, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Grumiaux and Henryk Szeryng, who I still feel have validity.

The fifth concerto, K219, is the most adventurous and operatic of all his violin concertos. Widely considered as Mozart’s finest of the six, it brims with bold and imaginative possibilities. Following an energetic aperto opening of the orchestra, the solo violin enters amidst an abrupt silence of the tutti in ethereal and lyrical recitative. It returns to the original tempo and celebratory mood with arpeggiated opening idea of the movement. In the slow movement, Mozart again displays music of limitless and expansive melodic quality. For a brief moment, the middle section of this movement goes through an unusually (for Mozart) darker emotion, nevertheless purified in an effervescent narrative that tugs eternal hope of possibilities. The finale, which is perhaps the most inventive and exciting, is a juxtaposition of a graceful rondo theme and an unexpected, exotic Turkish episode in the middle of the movement. It is one of the most dramatic moments in the Violin Concerto repertoire and never fails to surprise. After sliding delicately back into the original theme, Mozart closes the concerto by evaporating effortlessly as the last surprise.

So Jin Kim and this chamber orchestra of around 20, all named, play the fifth violin concerto with a great feeling for Mozart. The experience benefits from an excellent recording; it sounded fine in stereo, it will surely sound even finer in SACD. The soloist’s playing in this demanding work is really awe-inspiring and it’s not just a matter of technical excellence. Just sample the “Adagio” to be transported into a superior world, composed by a 19-year-old in his first flowering of genius. This work, like the previous two violin concertos, are favourites of mine so objectivity is difficult. Nevertheless I found it all quite mesmerising.

The soloist contributes brief notes on the works and there are photographs both of her and the splendid Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester. This disc now joins my preferred recordings of these works. I very much hope she will record the Fourth Concerto K218 and the duo Sinfonia Concertante K364. It’s a really magnificent achievement.

David R Dunsmore

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