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Mozart VCs v2 CHAN20263
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No 1 in B-flat, K207 (1775)
Violin Concerto No 2 in D, K211 (1775)
Violin Concerto No 5 in A, K219 (1775)
Francesca Dego (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Sir Roger Norrington
rec. 2021, New Auditorium, Royal Concert Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow
Violin Concertos Volume 2
CHANDOS CHAN20263 [67]

With this CD Francesca Dego and Roger Norrington complete their cycle of Mozart’s violin concertos. The others are on Volume 1 (review). Again, the cadenzas are by the Italian violinist and professor Franco Gulli. Concerto 1 excels in the first movement with buoyant Norrington orchestra introduction, prominent, gleaming horns mildly offset by elegant contrast of soft and loud phrases in the strings instead of a distinctive second theme. Dego’s solo repeat of the first adds individual flair, extending the material in more thoughtful manner and graciousness of response. The orchestra gets fierier and come the development (tr. 1, 2:28) Dego brings stern resilience and scruple in mulling over sequential phrases to resolve everything. In the recapitulation the soloist expands the scope of the opening theme in a quiet but well-defined supremacy, enhanced by an eingang (mini-cadenza, 4:48) and confirmed by a bright and shimmering Gulli cadenza (6:02) pleasingly dicing with filigree elements of the first theme.

The serenade-like pastoral of the Adagio slow movement seems to me too indulgent in its opening rippling semiquavers with Dego supplying only sweet commentary before a second theme arioso (tr. 2, 3:20), expressively played with added ornamentation in the repeated phrases. But the movement is already over ornate. Fortunately, the Presto finale reinforces the first movement pep. Its second theme (tr. 3, 0:13), rising oboes and horns answered by descending strings, proves the turbocharger. Vibrant semiquaver runs, ever changing and lightly articulated by Dego, work well. Gulli’s brief cadenza suitably gives prominence to the second theme opening.

In the first movement of Concerto 2 the classic match between assertive male and quiet but unremitting female favours the lady. The male tutti only gets six loud notes before the strings mock his grandeur, following with a second theme (tr. 4, 0:19), whose motifs echo between the string parts like a mass of tickling attacks. Tuttis become happy when the gentleman agrees with the lady. Dego extends the second theme into new reflective territory (1:37) which then refines into a sunny lifestyle, the resulting tutti a more unified couple (2:52). Distilling this mood in a third theme, (3:25) Dego articulates the resulting contentment. Gulli’s neat cadenza starts with the second theme, alludes to the third in a serene major version (6:55) and finally recalls the opening theme.

In the Andante slow movement Dego has first airing of the second part of the theme (tr. 5, 0:45), glorious flowering and delicacy simultaneously. A more personal arioso of a second theme (2:12) reveals the violin’s especial capability in capturing poignant and tender moments. Gulli’s cadenza adds increasingly more ethereal musing on the first theme.

The Allegro rondo finale is all high spirits. Dego starts the festivity and first episode (tr. 6, 0:19), the latter with delicate liveliness around which the orchestra violins dance stylishly. Dego also showcases the second episode (1:09) first more regal, then of tricksy jocularity. Episode 3 (2:17) has Dego with a leaping opening which hints at heroic declamation, immediately debunked by throwaway descents.

Concerto 5 begins Allegro aperto, an ‘open’, bright, radiant tiptoeing by the first violins, soft yet full of eager expectation. All the violins introduce the second theme (tr. 7, 0:39), jocular, then relaxed, beaming in a four-note tail, quietly glowing when the horns double the violins in the repeat. Similarly, the first solo violin entry, a soft Adagio reflection on the first theme (1:23), finds Dego exquisite. The third theme (2:46) she sings first, a refined exploration alongside the orchestra’s exuberant cheerleading. Notable in the recapitulation is Dego’s intrinsic, quiet confidence in the second part of the first theme (6:07). In Gulli’s cadenza the first theme gets acrobatic reflection while casting the second in the minor requires a feast of passage-work to glide back to the major. Gulli’s recording of 1989 (Claves 508913-4), timing at 1:07, 13 seconds faster than Dego’s, is more showy but less sweet.
In the whole work I compare Baiba Skride with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Elvin Aadland, recorded in 2019 (Orfeo C997201, review). Norrington’s orchestral contribution is livelier, lighter, more colourful. But Skride is a more commanding presence than Dego with playing that can be muscular as well as sweetly reflective, so overall offering more contrast. Skride uses Joseph Joachim’s cadenza which takes 1:43, beginning with the second part of the third theme, then moving into meditation which recalls the soloist’s opening entry.

The Adagio slow movement has one theme of three strains. The first is soft, nonchalant, lightly ruminative from the violins, with Norrington’s loud full orchestra punctuation more pressing. The second strain (tr. 8, 0:27) with many demisemiquaver flourishes is more delicate and shimmering, the third (0:45) starts more protesting. Dego’s repeats of the strains refines them, especially a more tragic, arioso quality in her second, varied statement of the first strain (1:37), transformation of the third strain into diminutive vanishing (2:55) and pathos of her probing in the development (3:46). Gulli’s cadenza spotlights the latter part of the second strain in high tessitura.
Skride plays with more emotion and sense of highly charged experience. Skride/Aadland’s crisis in the development (4:14 in Dego/Norrington) is starker where Norrington’s fs and fps could be gruffer. Skride plays Joachim’s cadenza, more discursive and showier, timing at 1:16 to Dego’s 0:56.

The Tempo di Menuetto rondo finale explains the concerto’s nickname Turkish. Its Allegro central interlude (tr. 9, 4:07) features Janissary music. Loud, with sforzandos and cellos and basses’ col legno, I’d prefer Norrington less polite, though I like his first violins’ glissando joining the first two phrases of the theme when repeated (first at 4:43). Skride/Aadland, with a faster approach overall, 8:17 against Dego/Norrington’s 9:52, make the tuttis more raucous and soloist more alarmed. More appreciable, however, is the way Dego conveys the changing mood of the rondeau theme, from elegantly playful opening, through a second appearance both assured and casual, a daintily decorated third coming, a warmly, caressing fourth and a sense of farewell and denouement in the final one, amusingly deflated by its throwaway, carefree close.

Michael Greenhalgh

Published: October 18, 2022

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