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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No.3 in G K216 [26:35]
Violin Concerto No.4 in D K218 [23:48]
Sonata for Piano and Violin No.22 in A major K305 [16:17]
Ray Chen (violin)
Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
Christoph Eschenbach (piano)
rec. 21-23 July, 2013, Christkirche Rendsburg-Neuwerk, Germany. DDD
SONY CLASSICAL 88765 447752 [66:40]

There are so many good recordings of these works now available that a comparative review is quite difficult and any new one has to be special to get a look-in. These are probably the two most popular of Mozart’s violin concertos and are here played elegantly by rising star, Taiwanese-Australian violinist, Ray Chen. The recording has been made in a broad, “churchy” acoustic, allowing the violin to soar and expand atmospherically. Nonetheless, for all its virtues, I am reluctant to endorse this over established favourites.
My favourite account of these works is by Anne-Sophie Mutter and in a point-by-point comparison nothing here challenges my preference. Chen has a decidedly leaner, lighter tone than Mutter and is considerably less characterful - or interventionist, depending on your taste. He writes his own cadenzas, whereas she uses those by Sam Franko and Joachim, which seem to me to be considerably more apt than Chen’s rather clumsy, jumpy improvisations. Mutter also has the fuller, weightier, creamier tone and the more affectionate accompaniment, despite the fact that the Festival Orchestra has two more strings and two more double basses than the LPO. Mutter’s tempi are often slightly faster but sound more leisurely, as the LPO is also marginally crisper and more alert; indeed the sharpness of the Mutter-LPO partnership is really striking.
The Sonata K305 is lesser work: a duo of only two movements beginning with a light, bubbly Allegro before proceeding to the dreaded variations. It is not amongst Mozart’s most inspired compositions but Chen and Eschenbach provide a partnership of equals whereby the two instruments call and answer each other charmingly. The conductor’s pianism is nimble, delicate and shaded. The first variation for solo piano will serve as an example of his restraint: it is deliberately retrospective, courtly and Baroque, with quaint sixteenth-note runs immaculately executed. I like, too, the way Chen often judiciously eschews vibrato or applies it tastefully and sparingly rather than smothering proceedings in too much Schmaltz.
Alfred Einstein famously observed that the Adagio of K216 “seemed to have fallen straight from heaven” and Chen captures something of the requisite rapt quality without quite emulating Mutter’s reading. That comparison can stand as the paradigm for his performances as a whole. Chen has many gifts: clean, shining tone, secure intonation and sensitive musicianship but he does not yet have the star quality which sets apart artists such as Mutter.  

Ralph Moore