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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No 3 in G, K216 (1775) [23:12]
Symphony No 29 in A, K201 (1774) [22:12]
Violin Concerto No 5 in A, K219 (1775) [29:18]
Sebastian Bohren (violin)
CHAARTS Chamber Artists/Gábor Tákacs-Nagy
rec. 2018/20, Reformierte Kirche Oberstrass, Zurich
AVIE AV2459 [74:43]

Most striking on this CD is Violin Concerto No 5. Its first movement is Allegro aperto, ‘open’, bright, radiant. Gábor Tákacs-Nagy has the orchestra itching to power forward, impish violins between lusty tuttis and vibrant dynamic contrasts. The second theme (tr. 8, 0:34) is both beaming and eloquent. A sphere away, Sebastian Bohren enters Adagio in a sweet, almost spiritual distillation over violins’ soft, murmuring breezes of semiquavers and ends with an appropriate, stylish eingang (mini cadenza, 2:02). Next, he leads the orchestra in the first theme in upper register and a more elegant makeover. He introduces a third theme (2:39), smiling and refined, before savouring the second (3:14) in aristocratic manner.

His cadenza (7:44) by Joseph Joachim, is also in the recording I compare, from Baiba Skride with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Eivind Aadland in 2019 (Orfeo C997201, review). It begins with the second part of the third theme and after some soaring takes up some recollection (8:55) of the later part of the first theme (c.f. 2:24). Timing at 1:46, Skride starts more playfully than Bohren, emphasising virtuoso display and joy. Bohren, steadier at 1:57, seems fastidiously to select elements for consideration, his recollection of the first theme appearing a more distanced perspective than Skride’s. Bohren/Tákacs-Nagy bring more drama in a threatening development, met with rigour and resolved by wholehearted acceptance of the challenge. Skride rides this more freely, savouring serenity sooner. Bohren shares the perspective of his surrounding strings: Skride shows more individual character offsetting them.

The Adagio slow movement has just one theme: orchestra with ruminative first strain packed with semiquavers. The second strain (tr. 9, 0:34) incorporates optimistic, tripping demisemiquavers, the third (0:55) begins with throwaway hemidemisemiquavers before concluding (1:22) with rising and falling petal like pairs of them. Bohren’s take-up brings more focus to the opening contemplative mood, his second phrase (2:01) already an eloquent arioso of potential tragedy. His second strain is a recall of happier times, his third a transformation from forte brusqueness to piano filigree finesse. Bohren now brings the development (4:24), pathos and crisis points (5:10, 5:14), sweet pleading (5:30), then skipping change of heart (5:39). Via pretend recapitulation (6:00) and second development (6:27) a refined way is found of civilising the third strain. Again, Bohren plays Joachim’s cadenza: gentle rising arpeggios based on the first strain, then sweet double stopping and upper register musing before the third strain’s petals in pairs shine at the close. Bohren’s cadenza timing of 0:54 is shorter than Skride’s 1:16, partly because he omits the angst and pleading of its middle section (7:41 to 8:12 in Skride) which better reflects the movement as a whole. An authorized cut? Jascha Heifetz’s 1951 recording (Naxos Historical 8.111288) is uncut.

The Tempo di Menuetto rondo finale sports a cheerful, yet elegant, theme lightly sprung by Bohren. The first episode (tr. 10, 0:34) has Bohren developing more refined, expansive musing, finishing with a tasteful eingang (1:33), then a juicier one (2:57) after the mock serious second episode (2:08). A central interlude (3:38) incorporates violin solos, the refrain after which gives this concerto its nickname Turkish (4:07) being alla turca in which the cellos and basses play col legno, tapping the strings with the wood rather than hair of their bows. After this pizazz an extended eingang (6:01) eases the transition back to the rondo theme. Bohren plays Joachim’s, with flurrying start and firmly articulated seven notes in the bass against the flourishing ascent to the upper register. Skride, timing at 0:23 to Bohren’s 0:27, goes for a smoother opening balance yet more shimmering ascent. As the return of the first episode is modified (7:04), Bohren brings a gentle, golden sunset.

Best of the rest? Two choices, first the opening movement of Symphony No 29. The CHAARTS Chamber Artists is a small international orchestra. You immediately notice the clarity yet homely warmth of the lower strings richly balancing the soft opening theme in the first violins, but then find very arresting the loud tutti repeat (tr. 4, 0:18), the theme now on all the violins, echoed at two crotchet beats’ distance by the lower strings, while oboes and horns add an electrifying upper layer of the key note sustained in octaves. The second theme (0:47) finds us back in domesticity, the second violins cosily echoing the firsts at a comfortable distance of sixteen crotchet beats, reduced to four for the later suavely sighing, languishing descent (1:16) followed by token balancing ascent. You’ll already have noticed the delicacy of trills and appoggiaturas, but especially at the first violins’ soft transitional passage at the end of the exposition (3:37), only to be stunned by its loud restatement by all the strings and oboes to begin the development (3:39). The resulting storm is, however, soon shrugged off by the soft first violins dancing in gentle, rising sequences (3:59), gradually gathering ground into a tutti (4:10) to usher in the recapitulation. Gábor Tákacs-Nagy achieves a judicious balance between vitality and late 18th century grace, but the lack of a repeat of the second part of the movement (3:39 to 6:12), when the exposition has been repeated, is irritating. In the coda (6:13) listen out from 6:20 for the first theme now in quadruple canon twice, echoed from first violins to cellos and basses, then horns, then violas, at two crotchet beats’ distance.

Second choice, the lovely Adagio slow movement of Concerto No 3 where Bohren is tender, yet flowing, with reflective yet sweet tone and benign humility, opening out a little for the brief shadows of the development (tr. 2, 2:34), but soon softer and gentler. Mozart as soloist was pleased when praised for his “beautiful, pure tone”, in which for me Bohren succeeds. Like Skride he plays Sam Franko’s cadenza (5:56) but maybe an alternative version, without the recall of the orchestra’s version of the third theme of the opening arioso (1:40) Skride includes. Bohren is more introvert, seeking a more rarefied environment, Skride more extrovert, favouring a more bold, varied and colourful approach.

Michael Greenhalgh

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