Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207 (1773) [19:24]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 (1775) [28:10]
Sinfonia concertante in E flat major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K364 (1779) [29:29]
Vilde Frang (violin)
Maxim Rysanov (viola)
rec. 2014, St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, UK
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 627677 [77:24]
Still they keep coming. Mozart’s violin concertos are more popular than ever, judged by the number of recent recordings. Now it’s the turn of Vilde Frang, the young Norwegian violinist. She seems very well suited to the two violin concertos on this disc. Her performance of the Concerto No. 1 is especially appealing. She approaches the work with a light, airy tone that really sparkles. Her Classical style is impeccable and she is accompanied well by the period-instrument Arcangelo. There is a nice orchestral balance with the horns adding lustre to the texture. I reviewed a disc of Mozart concertos with Renaud Capuçon and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Louis Langrée (Virgin Classics) several years ago that also included the Sinfonia concertante. That recording of the concerto greatly impressed me and this new one is every bit its equal. Although Langrée’s orchestra used modern instruments, Langrée eschewed vibrato for the most part as Cohen does here. If anything, I prefer Cohen’s lighter touch in the first movement. The second movement Adagio is rather a tie. Frang plays it with great feeling and elegance and Capuçon is a bit warmer, with luscious violin tone. Both are also excellent in the finale, taking it at a real lick, but keeping it light and breezy.
Where Capuçon/Langrée included the Concerto No. 3, Frang/Cohen give us the last of these works, the so-called “Turkish” Concerto. Frang’s account again is light and crisp, balancing well with the orchestra, but also bringing more weight to the music. The horns and oboe really enhance the performance of the slow movement, without ever dominating. Then in the finale they don’t rush the minuet or overdo the “Turkish” episode but still convey its urgency. Their understated approach is a good antidote to those who try to make too much of its exotic element.
The Sinfonia concertante is a much bigger and more mature work, one of Mozart’s greatest. Here I prefer Capuçon/Langrée with violist Antoine Tamestit, whose more symphonic approach really suits the piece. All the same, Frang and Rysanov are no slouches and their smaller scale performance, especially in the wonderful slow movement, is deeply felt. Theirs may be more introverted than the other account, but the warmth they convey is captivating. This is particularly evident in the slow movement’s cadenza Mozart provided. They take the finale at a slightly faster tempo than Capuçon/Tamestit, but the latter is a bit more exciting. What really seals my preference for the earlier account, though, is the projection of the important horn part in this work. For some reason, the balance here is not as good as it was in the violin concertos. Cohen uses natural horns but they do not project well in the Sinfonia concertante. They sound rather dull next to Langrée’s version, which I assume uses valved instruments. Otherwise, both performances do justice to this marvellous music.
Most listeners would be happy with these performances and the slight quibbles I have with the Sinfonia concertante should not deter anyone from hearing them. The CD booklet contains adequate notes on the works, some photos of the musicians, and a listing of the Arcangelo musicians, staff, trustees, and donors, but nothing about the musicians.
Previous review: Michael Cookson