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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concertos Nos 1-5, K207, 211, 216, 218, 219 [111:18]
Adagio in E major, K261 [5:50]
Rondo in B-flat major, K269 [6:12]
Rondo in C major, K373 [5:39]
Baiba Skride (violin), Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Eivind Aadland
rec. 2019, Musikhögskolan, Örebro, Sweden
ORFEO C997201 [61:22 + 67:37]

Though Orfeo don’t tell you, this 2-CD set comprises Mozart’s complete works for solo violin and orchestra. I’ve selected the three concertos from Mozart’s five I feel are most significant to compare Baiba Skride and Eivind Aadland’s accounts here with other recordings. Violin Concerto No. 3 for me stands out for its ‘get up and go’ quality. Mozart begins it using a theme that would have been remembered by its Salzburg audience, the start of Aminta’s aria, ‘Aer tranquillo e di sereni’, in his opera Il rè pastore premiered earlier in 1775. But this is just the beginning of a profusion of themes, quite complex in their delivery yet sounding spontaneous. In the opening tutti the first theme is all confident, lively flourishing, the second (CD1, tr. 7, 00:36) steadier at first, but soon developing fanfares and in its second part (00:50) offers a soft, dainty trot by the first violins against which the seconds deftly interplay with their own pointed accents. The soloist enters with the first theme but her second entry is with a new, third theme (1:38) that is, however, comfortable for the listener because it mimicks, with some variation, the slow ascent of the second theme and semiquaver flourishes of the first. This establishes the soloist as a distinctive individual within a very lively community. Baiba Skride brings a wealth of nuance and Eivind Aadland a good fund of vigour and variety. Skride next introduces a fourth theme (2:04) which mimicks the second part of the second theme and again the interplay between first and second violins is an entertaining feature. After the oboes and violins repeat the first phrase of the second theme (2:23), the soloist repeats this an octave lower at the same time as the oboes sing the second phrase (2:27). Ideally, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, hereafter SCO, oboes should have been a touch clearer at this point, though I like that the soloist is well focussed. There’s no problem in the recapitulation (6:20) because then the horns double the oboes. Meanwhile the ensuing tutti drifts into a dramatic phase that’s very much a dialogue: heavy f chords of resolve by the group (3:22); playfully scampering, effectively 16 semiquavers of descent, by the soloist (3:26). Skride soon gets an ally in the oboe, and full marks now to the SCO’s really nifty oboist, to which Skride’s response is more yielding, in recognition of a friend (4:24). She then goes into a somewhat dewy-eyed arioso culminating in a more formal, rhetorical exchange with the group and moment of fermata (mini cadenza) neatly and briefly provided by Skride (4:55), then the recapitulation. After this a fuller cadenza is expected and arrives (7:06), Mozart didn’t leave any and Skride plays that by Sam Franko. It lasts 2:05 and begins with some maternally tender double-stopping: this is the longer version of this cadenza, as played by Yehudi Menuhin with the Paris Symphony Orchestra/George Enescu, recorded in 1935 (Naxos Historical 8.111135). You find yourself wondering, have I heard that before, how different is it? You’re challenged to spot the recalls as themes appear in a more modern light, modulations, register and style. The easy ones are theme 2 getting heightened attention (7:20) and theme 4 (8:10). Bach is sometimes invoked as well. Such changes of perspective are as innovative as this concerto was when first played. Skride takes them in her stride with frightening assurance.

I compare Pekka Kuusisto with the Tapiola Sinfonietta/Olli Mustonen (Ondine ODE 10252) recorded in 2003. Timing at 7:39 to Skride/Aadland’s 9:32, theirs is a leaner, niftier Allegro. The violin solos having an air of folksy simplicity and improvised feel. This is artlessness disguising Mozart’s and Kuusisto’s artistry. Yet when the soloist repeats that first phrase of the second theme after the oboes and violins, the Tapiola Sinfonietta oboes simultaneously singing the second phrase is absolutely clear. Kuusisto’s quiet approach to the musing elements of his solos is very engaging, as is his lovely little shimmy, or one and a half, at the fermata. Kuusisto’s own cadenza lasts 26 seconds in which it’s easier to identify snippets of themes that focus on the movement's essential rhythmic effervescence. Skride and Aadland enjoy an element of opulence whereas Kuusisto and Mustonen focus on joy. Your choice.

For me the Adagio is the finest slow movement of Mozart’s five violin concertos. It has something of the quality of that more famous slow movement of Piano Concerto 21. It’s winsome, graceful with a seemingly effortless line. Skride repeats the orchestral opening of the theme ethereally an octave higher. It’s at first sweeter than the piano concerto one, yet its progression as a resolute aria is more serious. Muted violins and violas play above a pizzicato string bass and flutes, rather than oboes, play only in this movement, creating an airier upper register while Skride weaves a fine, seamless line. The full arioso is in 3 sections and takes 1:49. After a brief, rather blank, open expanse tutti, Skride returns to develop the arioso in a more searching manner (tr. 8, 2:35), confronting troubled experience. She movingly softens her repeat of her modification of the opening phrase as if pleading (2:49) and Aadland’s accompaniment sensitively softens with her. Later Skride takes up the violins’ accompaniment rhythm of two semiquavers and a semiquaver rest, but in her case presenting in a descending sequence (3:18), a mark of humility. But another brief orchestral passage is followed by a reinvigorated resolve in Skride’s f recapitulation of the opening theme and her playing becomes radiant. Skride also plays Sam Franko’s cadenza for this movement (5:37). It lasts 1:25, beginning with a variation of the theme that searches for its pure essence, later incorporating some double stopping and even managing to pinch the orchestra’s opening of the third section of the arioso (1:32). The coda brings Skride’s final, affectionate gaze at the theme’s opening phrase.

Timing this movement at 6:54 to Skride/Aadland’s 7:34, Kuusisto/Mustonen look a little faster but their opening arioso is a touch slower at 1:58 and 2:03 in the recap. This slight difference may explain the more studied feel to the accompaniment, though Kuusisto’s playing is ravishing and the development more forlorn. The quicker overall timing is accounted for by Kuusisto’s own cadenza being only 26 seconds, a fleet ascent to the summit, quiet gazing out once there, followed by a graceful, trilling and double- stopped descent, exquisite yet comparatively perfunctory.

The finale kicks in with a blustering manner from Aadland as the orchestra first presents the rondo theme, which allows for more of a surprise as it ends gracefully. Skride enters solo with the first episode (tr. 9, 0:28), lively, yet also well and silkily pointed and taking material from the closing, quiet part of the rondo (1:06) before her first and brief presentation of the opening of the rondo theme with the orchestra (1:26). The second episode, also showcased by Skride (1:36) starts as a minor key version of the first, with a really lovely sotto voce repeat of its opening from Skride (2:00), not marked but very moving. Shortly, in an eingang (mini cadenza) at 2:30, Skride gives us 8 seconds of quietly dazzling rollercoaster sleight of hand before the return again to the rondo theme. Now Mozart adds an unexpected feature: an ‘interlude’ beginning Andante with a tiptoeing solo from Skride over pizzicato strings (3:03, then an Allegretto second part (3:34) which is thoroughly rustic and merry, Skride’s double stopping providing a drone. After this, episode 3 (4:19) is another variant of episode 1, which moves on to mimicking the rondo theme in high register (4:30), then returning, now with more triumphant assurance, to the rondo theme’s quiet ending (4:52). There’s a second eingang (5:13), 10 seconds this time from a suaver, more smiling Skride and, in her final return with the rondo theme, enjoy her pizzicato on the offbeat left hand against the right-hand normal bowing (5:26), an epitome of her overall playfulness.

Kuusisto/Mustonen, timing at 5:50 to Skride/Aadland’s 6:01, are a mite niftier, while Kuusisto’s lighter articulation and in particular trills brings partying with a touch of cheekiness. Kuusisto also plays the repeat in the second episode softer, but not as markedly so as Skride. But in the following phrase he repeats the second repeat of the leap to high C as a glissando, which charmingly defuses the earnestness that has recently developed. He ignores the first eingang. In the ‘interlude’ Kuusisto’s opening is a nonchalant swagger through exotic surroundings, while his allegretto, only politely rustic, concentrates on his dazzling decoration of the oboes’ theme. He does, for eingang 2, provide 6 seconds of descending glissando and pizzicato to anticipate that combination of pizzicato and normal bowing soon to follow. In this movement Skride is smooth and stylish; but Kuusisto is more fun.

Mozart’s symphonies, famously the Jupiter, and sometimes piano concertos in operatic style, start with a martial male theme followed by a second one of lady guile. In Violin Concerto No. 4 the male theme is in the main the opening fanfare, Aadland very macho with bristling trills, but the feminine, soft second theme (CD2, tr. 1, 0:33) smooths things and blood pressure down until its f end of phrase, a two-quaver and crotchet tag, to show the lady can fight too. Heading the residue of the second theme is a cheery five-note motif (0:49), often repeated and prominent later. In her first solo Skride repeats the orchestra’s fanfare in upper register to debunk it, then adds her own theme, the third theme (1:48), similar in manner to the second but of richer character, clarifying the violin is on the lady’s side and will ensure her victory. And she adds another theme, the fourth (2:04). Beginning with an octave leap, this just confirms the violin is in charge of everything with ascents and cascades of semiquavers. Only when she’s finished with this does she come to the second theme and tag (2:43), the latter more stylishly, less thumpingly marked than earlier, now both soloist and strings are delivering it, but still a clear warning. Meanwhile there have been lovely details of interplay between soloist and orchestra to savour: the exchange in mirror image with first violins (2:30 to 2:38), the soloist rises, the violins fall; the five-note motif (2:59 to 3:06) from oboe, horn, soloist, cellos and basses in turn; the exchange in reverse mirror image between soloist and all violins (3:15 to 3:21), the soloist falls, the violins rise, delightfully done by Skride and Aadland with a smooth veneer.

The development is introduced by a warlike tutti, but only becomes clear when the violin solo is more reflective (3:47) and then requires a fair quantity of two octave semiquaver scales and runs to restore equilibrium. Not until we return to the second theme and tag (5:44) do we know the recapitulation has arrived and then the five-note motif is exchanged across the orchestra (6:01). Though the Orfeo booklet states all cadenzas are by Skride, this must be a confusion between eingangs (mini cadenzas) and formal cadenzas. The latter Skride plays in this movement is the well-known one by Joseph Joachim (6:46). From Skride it takes 1:51. She begins with the third theme sailing sweetly into the stratosphere and, once there, takes up the second theme and, after a little while, its tag and then the five-note motif. All these appear in intriguingly slightly unfamiliar guise and are intricately combined with double-stopping until finally there are celebratory references to the opening theme. The whole makes a fascinating display.

Here I compare Frank Peter Zimmermann with the Bavarian Radio Chamber Orchestra/Radoslaw Szulc, recorded in 2014 (review). Zimmermann is as fine a soloist as Skride, while for me Szulc has the edge in benefitting from a still glowing but brighter, cleaner orchestral presence than Aadland. The opening from Szulc and Zimmermann in turn is a match in sprightliness, rather than Aadland and Skride’s sense of an element of contest. Both are valid interpretations. Zimmermann/Szulc are more relaxed about the second theme and five-note motif where my preference is for Skride/Aadland giving these more prominence. At the fourth theme Zimmermann measures out the opening octave and other leaps and the virtuoso aftermath is handled with more relaxed phrasing where Skride goes for a more heroic display of endeavour. Zimmermann is sweeter in upper register, but I prefer Skride’s more troubled development where Zimmermann takes the two octave scales more in his stride. They both impress in different ways: Zimmerman in his fluency, Skride in her focus on dramatic elements and variety of mood. These differences can also be observed when they both play Joachim’s cadenza. Zimmerman takes 1:47 to play it, just 4 seconds quicker.

The Andante cantabile slow movement begins in warm, serenade manner, Skride repeating the orchestral first theme an octave higher but sunnily over the orchestra, then continuing into a second theme arioso of more expressiveness (tr. 2, 1:10) and still more heartfelt when she repeats it an octave lower. Then her third theme (1:44) laughs this sentiment off in frivolity. In the recapitulation the second theme begins in higher register, played with great affection by Skride before plunging briefly to a lower register than before and finally, also briefly, softening very much in mid register as if other dimensions of the emotion are just being faintly remembered. The first phrase of the third theme now appears lower than before but the second phrase higher, so again Mozart is able to use familiar material yet make it appear with a fresh piquancy. From 4:25 Skride plays another cadenza by Joachim which takes 1:29. It begins in sweet meditation, like a quieter recall of the third theme yet wanting to lie back and make it more leisurely, or perhaps thinking of the second theme’s expressiveness but wanting to soften its serious essence. Then come acrobatics around the first theme (4:30) which make that more serious, after which going into quite a free fantasia before finally getting close to the third theme again. An absorbing display.

Szulc’s orchestral opening to the slow movement is fresher, more open, but less sunny than Aadland’s. Zimmermann’s solo is more emotive and his third theme affectionate from the start, dainty rather than Skride’s relished frivolity. Zimmerman’s upper register is gloriously golden and the interplay with the orchestra is demonstrably enjoyed by both parties. Zimmerman’s cadenza, which takes 38 seconds, is a ‘top and tail version’ of Joachim’s, beginning with the same two opening phrases but then switching immediately to the third theme and otherwise with brief acrobatics and resolution. Zimmerman’s presentation is finely poised but in comparison with Skride’s seems relatively cursory.

The rondo finale, its theme begun by Skride Andante grazioso, is courtly, somewhat quaint and humorous. The orchestra tries to smooth it forward but Skride asserts herself her way, then takes the initiative (tr. 3, 0:29) to be more tripping in Allegro ma non troppo. This is all variation and elaboration of the opening rondo, which turns out to be not as simple as it first appeared. The new mood and first episode come at 0:49, when the tutti successfully moves things on and Skride branches out decisively, within which the orchestra has its own lively proposal by the strings and four-note rising theme in the wind (1:08). Aadland and Skride clearly give us a contest between orchestra and soloist, in which Aadland provokes Skride into more sparkling assertion. This first section of the finale ends with a stylish, masterly eingang from Skride and the rondo theme then returns. Episode 2 (2:29) is more nonchalant, the variety in turning away from sweetness, with lots of semiquaver runs needed to get back to it via some charmingly light-footed ascending phrases from Skride, another change of character midway through an episode. Andante grazioso returns (3:13), yet not with the rondo theme but a squarer one of its essence paired down, in effect as in Concerto 3, another central ‘interlude’, with a second part in which Skride has a drone beneath the melody (3:32). Episode 3 (4:11) takes us back to the cheer of the semiquaver runs of episode 1 and then the wind brings back the squarer theme. Another deft eingang from Skride (4:52), the rondo theme now only briefly before a more demonstrative orchestra with its four-note rising theme featuring strongly and Skride responding as purposefully to end in a more extended and dexterous eingang (5:44), 19 seconds of indulgence, but in lieu of a full cadenza. In the final return of the rondo theme and Skride’s response with a crescendo and then tutti you expect a roaring close, but are surprised by a decrescendo and soft one, so your last thought is of the movement’s graceful aspects.

This raises the question, is it easy to recall these from Skride/Aadland? My overall impression is of an orchestra, the masculine figure to return to the prototypes beginning the first movement, trying spasmodically to dominate in quite a bullish way, but the lady soloist following her own sweet, neatly pointed, elegant course, a contest which she wins, though it’s pleasing when the orchestra regularly at the returns of the rondo theme courteously concedes and makes its own soft responses to her. Do I get the same impression from Zimmermann/Szulc? No, here the emphasis is rather on a partnership between orchestra and soloist, both striving to be equally neat, though the orchestra firm in its statements and interjections. You could argue this is downplaying the f markings for the orchestra a bit where the soloist has more freedom of response. I do feel the strings’ lively proposal in the first episode should be stronger. But Szulc’s approach is well weighted to Zimmermann’s consummate ease of delivery. You get a quieter life from them, sitting back enjoying, not Skride’s vim, not Skride’s tension early in episode 2, a more roseate drone in the central ‘interlude’, which Zimmermann, unlike Skride, prefaces with an eingang, not flagged in the Bärenreiter urtext but permissible as there’s a pause marked just before its beginning. His final eingang, at 18 seconds, is as fulsome as Skride’s.

Concerto 5 is the snazziest of the five. Aadland’s Allegro aperto orchestral introduction teems with power and confidence, with insistently repeated figures prominent, yet also contrasts of refinement and superb horn contributions from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, especially at the end of the elegant second theme (tr. 4, 0:37). The first theme is just a long, drawn out fanfare, but remember the curl at the end of the exposition (1:15), a common chord of A major articulated from the lowest note by note. Then a surprise: Skride enters Adagio with her own magical meditation above soft violins murmuring in demisemiquavers, showing her capability of a different character, sweet, reflective, ending with an ornate trilling embellishment as a fermata, effectively a brief eingang. Then we get what we expected earlier: Skride’s Allegro aperto repeat of the first theme (2:11), all heroic resilience, and now that curl I mentioned becomes the start of her third theme (2:42) whose second part (3:05) is a transition to her first statement of the second theme (3:18). After Aadland’s buoyant tutti we then get a more seriously exploratory solo arioso (4:33), in effect the development section, but quite soon come the recapitulation the second theme has from Skride become more homely and winsome in comparison to its original orchestral flightiness. Skride again plays Joachim’s cadenza (7:54) taking 1:46. It begins with the second part of the third theme and moves, via some rigour into some introspective meditation that recalls the mood of Skride’s opening entry. You’ll recognize phrases that you can’t quite place because they are in a different pitch and key and some have some double-stopping bolstering. An easy one is at 9:01, the recall of the later part of the first theme (2:26).

Here I compare James Ehnes, both soloist and conductor of the Mozart Anniversary Orchestra, hereafter MAO, recorded in 2005 (review). You can argue this adds authenticity as Mozart himself would have at the first performances directed from the violin: sometimes it’s forgotten he was a virtuoso violinist as well as pianist. Generally, with a soloist-conductor, the advantage can be a closer relationship between soloist and orchestra, the disadvantage some loss of detail in orchestral articulation. In this case the advantage is very evident in the passages between soloist and strings, especially the echoing phrases between them in the third theme which are articulated more deftly and freshly by Ehnes and the MAO than by Skride and the SCO. But there’s a slight disadvantage in the tuttis and wind playing, with the MAO having less character than the SCO, in particular the horns, the Swedish ones outshining all other recordings I’ve heard in smoothness and beaming radiance of tone. The first appearance of the second theme, lightly articulated, makes less impact from the MAO than the SCO. Ehnes as soloist enters pleasingly over the soft layering of the MAO. He’s less masterful than Skride over the SCO but plays sweetly and his fermata is discreet and tasteful. His repeat of the first theme has plenty of verve, but generally his playing is notable for its refinement. He brings an appropriate overcast quality to the ‘development’. What I admire most from Ehnes is his own cadenza, which takes 1:53. This is cultivated, sometimes quite luscious, playing, beginning with a florid version of the first theme, then toying with the second part of the third theme, developing it musingly and indulging in a recall and extension of the ‘development’ material often scarcely noted. This all makes for a suddenly intimate and personal focus, more melodic than virtuosic, though double-stopping does feature, and you marvel how quickly he manages to link back to the tutti jollity.

The Adagio slow movement is unusual in having just one, quite long, theme first played by the orchestra. It has an ambling pastoral, but more maternal, quality. Its finesse increases with semiquaver and demisemiquaver figurations. The solo violin repeat immediately extends the theme into the expressive and personal arioso of an individual probing unhappy times and, when those demisemiquavers return, recalling happy times with accompanying violins’ mix of paired demisemiquavers and semiquaver rests like a gentle shower of petals, sensitively scattered by the SCO. Yet in her second solo Skride meets crisis head on with sudden orchestral fs followed by ps (tr. 5, 4:18, 4:22), responds with forbearance and a touch of sweet pleading (4:35), then a sudden skip of two demisemiquaver appoggiaturas (4:42) to seal change of heart. What looks like a recapitulation (4:59) turns out to be partially a false one, a staging post to further, development like, consideration in which Skride now plays her sweet line over those violins’ ‘petals’ softly, in hope yet also evident fragility. As in the first movement, Skride plays Joachim’s cadenza at 7:21. It starts with a humble, bare bones outline of the essential elements of the theme. Then, in a soaring and descending phrase, comes a double-stopped release of ecstasy before more resolute sequencing with reference to those semiquavers and demisemiquavers late in the theme. This then turns into a lighter release of flight, think Lark ascending territory, and a late reference to the ‘petals’ accompaniment. In just this cadenza I compare Jascha Heifetz recorded in 1951 (Naxos Historical 8.111288). Timing the cadenza at 1:08, he’s just 7 seconds faster than Skride, but I prefer her greater delicacy to his more forceful bravura.
Ehnes, timing the movement at 10:45 to Skride/Aadland’s 8:48 is, I feel, a little too slow and thereby rather mannered in the phrasing of the orchestral introduction: it just doesn’t flow like Aadland’s. Ehnes’ violin solo is sweetly expressive with a musing quality and his interplay with the orchestral violins is clear, but the ‘petals’ aren’t scattered as smoothly as Aadland’s. In the second solo Ehnes is sadder and more fragile than Skride, which makes for pathos, but I miss Skride’s strength and clear change of heart. With Ehnes I feel he’s shutting his eyes and lying low, though his solo after the false recapitulation acquires strength through dogged perseverance. Ehnes’ own cadenza takes 1:27. It begins with a juicy, double-stopped version of the opening of the theme, but soon continues in the second solo development material, then flies into the stratosphere in which it recalls some of the most rhapsodic moments from the solo after the false recap turns benign, albeit its descent from cloud nine is a little over drawn-out.

This rondo finale is, as it begins with Skride, a particularly stylish one marked Tempo di Menuetto. Aadland’s tutti repeat brings more heft, to which Skride responds with a frilly codetta, sportively concluded by an A major rising common chord preceded by a low E, in quavers spaced by quaver rests, all garnished with appoggiaturas. For this chord Mozart doubles the violin with two soft horns but spares them the appoggiaturas. So, everything is more crafted than it seems, yet Skride’s skill makes it all sound spontaneous. Now, straight to the first episode (tr. 6, 0:32): this is freer and more progressive. The tutti tries to rough things up but, not succeeding, horns and oboes sustain notes against the violin in a kind of extended bow. As in the previous rondos the episodes end with Skride’s eingangs, the first here (1:26) being a delightfully brief pirouette. The second episode (1:57) is darkly luxuriant, the soloist in ‘mezzo’ register but soon switching to ‘coloratura’. Another eingang prestidigitation to enjoy (2:43). When the time comes for the next episode here’s, as in concertos 3 and 4, a central ‘interlude’ (3:22). This one is an Allegro punctuated by determined orchestral sforzandos and Skride flying around as if raising an alarm. The tutti strings break into a spiky dance with col legno cellos and basses (3:48). This is the Turkish jamissary infusion from which this concerto gets its nickname, though sadly without any percussion. Skride responds like a firework unfolding, yet with even more grace, and is still left with the last word with the pyrotechnics of another eingang (5:31). To preface the final return of the rondo theme she revisits episode 1 with greater assurance, like a victory parade and a final musing, heavenwards soaring eingang (7:23). In the closing tutti the horns, not to be outdone, add some new military might to provoke a rousing conclusion, except there’s still that original codetta, so they must needs be satisfied with doubling that soft, rising chord.

Ehnes begins the finale very neatly but hasn’t quite the spontaneity of Skride and his orchestra seems more square in its precision. However, the first episode has good vertical clarity and Ehnes’ closing eingang is both succinct and deft. The second episode has vigour and relish and you notice how the first and later second violins pick up and extend the soloist’s three groups of running semiquavers. The central ‘interlude’ has a sullen opening, but the orchestra is very alert in responding to the soloist’s quite spiky restlessness. The jamissary material is then livelier and more dramatic than Skride/Aadland’s and to advantage, while in his closing eingang Ehnes makes a smooth transition from opening drama to the amiability which now cloaks the final return of the rondo theme.

From the three stand-alone pieces listed in the heading I’ve selected the Adagio in E as being of most interest. This was a commissioned from Mozart by the violinist Antonio Brunetti after, the legend runs, Brunetti thought the slow movement of Concerto 5 ‘too studied’. But the editor of the Bärenreiter urtext disputes this link, suggesting it might simply have been an independent commission. If you buy this CD, you can make up your own mind by playing this Adagio, like that of Concerto 5, in E major, as an alternative slow movement for it. I’m with the Bärenreiter editor, as the style is different. I’d say Mozart’s response was ‘OK, I’ll write you something fresher, shorter and more direct’. It takes Skride 5:40 in place of the 8:47 of the Concerto, that’s two-thirds the length. In being more direct it’s also more emotive and arguably crosses over that boundary to sentimentality which Mozart normally avoids. But, unlike the original concerto movement, Mozart didn’t compose this one to play himself. It’s pretty but very sugary. Yet listen out: this time it’s the soloist that starts (tr. 7, 1:50) with the paired demisemiquavers and semiquaver rests ‘petals’ that are in the original Concerto 5 Adagio. The basic structure is familiar: short orchestral presentation of the theme, the soloist repeats and extends it like an aria, but an easily flowing, affectionate one. The development section (2:15) faces hardship, but Skride is careful to make the high notes poignant rather than forced. The recapitulation (3:01) starts in low register for the first phrase, then jumps two octaves higher. This could seem disjointed and corny, but Skride makes it a heart-warming assurance that all’s well. At 4:52 she provides a 33 second cadenza of graceful ascents and descents with some recalls of the progression of the melodic line rather than major elements, plus a touch of ‘petal’.

I compare Zimmermann. Timing at 6:44 to Skride’s 5:40, his is arguably a stricter Adagio, but smiling and roseate, though his ‘petals’ are a bit skittish and thus less winsome than Skride’s. His development is softer, showing a caring concern but relatively untrammelled sweetness of outlook. Here I prefer Skride’s greater emotive contrast. Zimmerman’s 46 second cadenza is attractively simple and tripping, with some double-stopping, recollections closer to the main theme than Skride’s and brief, varied perspectives of sadness and joy.

I realize I’ve ended up surveying the Mozart playing of four violinists and orchestras, so a summary might be useful. Of the four violinists, I’m certain Skride is the best: she simply has that extra amount of character, bravura and on occasion pathos too. Zimmermann is almost as good and gives very cultivated accounts. Kuusisto has a freshness and chutzpah that’s distinctive, while Ehnes shines in his own cadenzas which beautifully and intelligently contemplate the melodic essence of the movements. Turning to orchestral direction and recording balance, Szulc is the best, allowing the clearest interplay between soloist and orchestra in a full, yet not over robust sound. This latter issue has somewhat qualified my enjoyment of Aadland’s often otherwise sensitive accompaniment and applies particularly to a quite fulsome string bass in a fairly glowing acoustic. So, I wonder if there are too many cellos and double-basses. Mozart’s music of 1775 seems to be veering towards music after 1800. You may indeed prefer this heftier sound, more so than that of the other chamber orchestras I’ve compared, and you can perhaps modify your bass control. If you’re interested in purchasing this set, I advise you to listen to some samples on the Presto website first to see what you think, especially the first two movements of Concerto 5. For Kuusisto, Mustonen offers the lightest orchestral sound and some may feel it’s too light, but it does contribute to the freshness of these performances which are closest to period instrument accounts. Ehnes’ role as conductor is variable in success, being lively at the faster and more vigorous material, elsewhere having less character than the other accounts.

Michael Greenhalgh

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