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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat, K495 [16:08]
Horn Concerto No.3 in E flat, K447 [14:26]
Horn Concerto No.1 in D, K412+514 [8:36]
Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat, K417 [13:15]
Felix Klieser (horn)
Camerata Salzburg
rec. 2018, Grosser Saal, Mozarteum Salzburg
BERLIN CLASSICS 0301188BC [52:31]

Precise, polished, pristine, this recording of all four Mozart Horn Concertos seems to be without any discernible flaws. The playing of Camerata Salzburg is impeccable, every little detail beautifully articulated, every nuance perfectly measured, dynamics superbly controlled and inner balance impeccable – as revealed in the brief fugal passage of the finale for the two-movement first Concerto. For his part, Felix Klieser produces a laser-sharp tone, without a single blemish or faltering note, the tonguing of the repeated notes in the buoyant finale of the third Concerto delivered with stunning clarity and a total absence of fuss. Throughout all four concertos there is a sense that he is not just in total control, but that the music is so safely under his command that nothing could conceivably go wrong.

Which is not to say that Klieser does not introduce his own small interpretative gestures; he delivers the opening theme of the first Concerto with a lovely sense of story-telling, shaping the phrase and moulding the dynamics to highlight the narrative character of the line. While his playing is too clean-shaven to introduce any more than a hint of humour in the much-parodied finale to the fourth Concerto, his playing here certainly lifts the spirits. Klieser writes in the booklet that “the orchestra makes fun of the horn player”, but fun is not the mot juste here; it’s all a little too rigidly disciplined for that. What we have is organised lightness of spirits which brings a smile to the face, a spring to the step, but does not prod the emotions even so far as a chuckle.

Missing from this is that edge-of-the-seat thrill one normally expects when hearing a horn in concert, that disaster – or at least some unexpected fluff – lies just around the corner. It seems almost to fly in the face of reality that horn playing can be so totally secure and free from risk; yet that is exactly what we have here, and as such it presents these staples of the horn repertory in an almost idealised environment, allowing us to hear them as Mozart wrote them, even if in his own day, he could never have dreamt of hearing them like this. In our own age, where we have become used to the vagaries of period instruments, there is something almost artificial about the flawless fluency of this horn playing.

But while all this might imply performances which verge on the bland and featureless, there is one significant factor which, buried deep in the booklet, brings us up short and makes us not so much respect Klieser’s flawless playing but look on it with something approaching amazement. By any standards this is exceptionally technically accomplished playing, but Klieser, we are told, “plays the valves of his horn with the toes of his left foot, having been born without arms”. In the light of that information, we can only stand back in awe of someone who can make such an astonishing feat sound as natural as this. As a testament to overcoming disability the recording is even more magnificent than it is as a presentation of Mozart’s music.

My only interpretative issues are with Klieser’s cadenzas, which sometimes seem to wander rather aimlessly over material which does not always fit quite comfortably into the context. But, special circumstances aside, this stands as the perfect reference source for these four concertos.

Marc Rochester

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