Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Violin Concerto in G major, K216
Violin Concerto in D major, K218
Violin Concerto in A major, K219
Adagio in E, K261
Henning Kraggerud (violin & director)
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
rec. Slottskirke, Akershus, Norway, 29 January 2015 NAXOS DVD 2.110368 [97:33]
A few decades ago, Norway could boast relatively few musicians of renown, such as the violinist Arve Tellefsen. Then, as the great violist Lars Anders Tomter explained to me once, the government started investing heavily in music education. Suddenly string players, pianists, singers and conductors were bustin’ out all over. Tomter himself, of course, Henning Kraggerud, the soloist on this excellent DVD, Leif Ove Andsnes and many others whose names will be familiar to readers. British government Philistines please take note.
Kraggerud is a very personable violinist and in addition is clearly an innovative and dedicated teacher. In a note in the booklet, he mentions that his lessons at the Barratt Due Institute in Oslo and our own RNCM in Manchester include ‘harmony, music history and analysis of scores’, as well as ‘dancing, singing, conducting, improvising and composing’. In this live concert in a pleasing brick church, we first encounter the tiny orchestra, led by Camilla Jjøll, before Kraggerud enters. He introduces each concerto in a friendly but informative style – the speeches are allotted separate chapters so that you need not listen to them more than once – and usually plays along with the first violins in the tuttis. Just once, in the Andante cantabile of K218, he conducts the opening bars.
Modern instruments are used and in all three opening tuttis, short notes are played very short, which imparts a slight feeling of brusqueness. I would say it was a habit picked up from period orchestras, except that it is not done in the period Mozart violin concerto performances known to me. Everything settles down and becomes more graceful, once Kraggerud starts playing as a soloist. He uses a few modest decorations in repeated material – more than a few in the Adagio of K216, which is very well played – and gives us his own longish yet interesting cadenzas in all three concertos. The Rondeau of K216 is taken quite speedily. The Allegro of K218 also seems fast. Kraggerud employs tiny nudges of portamento in the Andante cantabile, which I like, and shapes it very nicely. Again the Rondeau seems on the brisk side and his cadenza has a touch of Hardanger fiddle to it. Much the same pattern emerges in K219, with a rather fast Allegro aperto, lovely playing in the Adagio and a slightly graceless opening phrase in the Minuet-like Rondeau. As an encore we are given the Adagio in E, K261, which gives the flutes – otherwise active only in the Adagio of K216 – something more to do. It is beautifully played like all the slow movements here.
I must stress that the music-making is very vital throughout, with orchestral playing that is irreproachable apart from my reservation about occasional brusqueness; and anyone seeking a fresh view on these well-loved concertos ought to enjoy the performances. The impression of fast speeds was not entirely borne out when I made some comparisons with Franco Gulli (Claves). It is a strange business, this awareness of tempo: Gulli is not significantly slower, yet he seems to have more space in which to be gracious. The sound on the new DVD seems excellent. I assume that the audio CD (Naxos 8.573513
review) contains performances recorded under studio conditions around the same time. Readers may like to know that I recently bought myself the new disc on which Tomter and Jan Bjøranger play the Sinfonia concertante in E flat, K364, with another little Norwegian ensemble called 1B1 (Simax PSC1351). It is Tomter’s second recording of this work and I found it very enjoyable. The coupling is Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto, played by Clemens Hagen with cadenzas by Henning Kraggerud! At the risk of seeming greedy, I would also like to see and/or hear Tomter teamed with Kraggerud in K364.