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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto in B flat major, K207 (1773) [18:37]
Violin Concerto in D major, K211 (1775) [17:01]
Violin Concerto in G major, K216 (1775) [19:56]
Violin Concerto in D major, K218 (1775) [19:38]
Violin Concerto in A major, K219 (1775) [23:00]
Violin Concerto in D major, K271A (1777) [25:11]
Mirijam Contzen (violin)
Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie/Reinhard Goebel
rec. 29 November – 3 December 2013, Bavaria Musikstudio, Munich
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 862 [55:36 + 67:51]

This is a very nice set of Mozart’s six Violin Concertos, performed with an ‘authentic’ vibe as you would expect as conducted by someone such as Reinhard Goebel, with harpsichord continuo crispening up the rhythms and harmonies, and a clean, transparent lightness of sound from the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie. Mirjam Contzen’s violin tone suits this backing very well, with vibrato applied as an expressive medium rather than an ever-present colour of tone. These versions have a pleasant chamber-music feel, and even though mostly modern instruments are in use the gloss of early-music refinement feels refreshing rather than pretentious.
Wait a minute, six violin concertos? Isn’t that one too many? It may have been before now, but this may be a turning point for the Mozart Violin Concerto canon.
One of my more recent references in the Mozart Violin Concertos has been Richard Tognetti from the BIS label (see review), and with a slightly lower tuning and gut strings used with the string instruments this has if anything an even more ‘authentic’ feel than from Goebel, though Richard Tognetti is more colourful with his vibrato than Contzen. You have SACD and numerous extras with the BIS releases, and the absence of K271A is made up for with the sublime Sinfonia Concertante, and price difference isn’t much of an issue at the moment. I find it hard to come down firmly in either camp. If you prefer your Mozart a little warmer and friendlier then Tognetti is your man. Mirijam Contzen’s solo is set a little higher in the balance than Tognetti and she is more bravura in the cadenzas where Tognetti tends more towards imaginative playfulness.
Other complete sets include that with Julia Fischer from Pentatone (see review) which is stuffed with extras and is very competitive, recorded as it is in a more spacious acoustic. Julia Fischer’s not unappealing vibrato-laden tone is a question of taste however, and compared to Tognetti and Contzen it somehow sounds a little old-fashioned, a bit like classic recordings such as that of Arthur Grumiaux. Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recordings on Deutsche Grammophon also invite comparison, but this is even more of a case of chalk and cheese. Mutter is lively and imaginative, but does impose a good deal of her own personality onto Mozart’s notes, which you may or may not like. I personally don’t mind this too much, but you have to be in a Mutter-mood to want to have her take you on these journeys, which have the infusion of a Paganini-like showmanship to go along with all the remarkable musicianship on offer.
Mirijam Contzen’s Bach solos have been reviewed here, and an even earlier Wigmore Hall appearance was reviewed on the Seen & Heard pages. The more I play her Mozart concertos the more I like them, though there are some interpretative issues on which some might agree to disagree. The Adagio of K216 for instance, which goes at such a cracking pace that I suspect Adagio is the last word which would spring to mind on a blind audition. This is something which also crops up in the Adagio of K219, which drives in at 6:53 compared to Tognetti’s leisurely 9:03. At first I feared a few of Mozart’s more graceful subtleties may have been stamped on quite hard in this process, but were are given an entirely different view of the music in this way and if nothing else there is a sprightly wit which arises to take their place. Who is to say how fast Mozart would have wanted these really; or indeed how much tolerance his audiences would have had for today’s more traditional view.
Not to be confused with the Jeunehomme piano concerto K271 but with a not dissimilar character at times, a very strong selling point for this set will be the K271A concerto, which we are told lacks an autograph manuscript and was labelled ‘uncertain’ by H.C. Robbins Landon. Reinhard Goebel has become convinced that this is a genuine Mozart work, and in fact shows a considerable development from the other five. Given a superb performance as it is here, you can sense the richness in the orchestral writing, and the soloist is given plenty of interesting ‘extras’ which seem to indicate a move beyond the technical models laid down by Mozart’s father Leopold. Brought to life in this way this work is a major discovery, and from henceforth musicians and record labels will be in a conundrum as to whether it should be included or not to make a ‘complete’ set. I would give a resounding ‘yes’ to this question, and plaudits are due to Reinhard Goebel for sticking his neck out and raising K271A to equal status with the other concertos. This is not the first ever recording of this work, and its inclusion as part of Thomas Zehetmair’s set on Warner Classics (see review) has been the most emphatic reference in the past, though Zehetmair and the Philharmonia are now somewhat ‘old school’ in the relatively grand and big-boned style with which they perform this and the other concertos.
To sum up, this is a highly attractive set of the Mozart Violin Concertos in today’s light chamber-music style but with the sonorities of modern instruments. The cover photo is an open door to silly captions like, “if you touch my G-string, I’ll…” etc., but otherwise this is a serious prospect and one for the wish-list of any fan of Mozart.
Dominy Clements