Mozart provided no cadenzas for his Violin Concertos; soloists would have created their own and this is often the case today. A recent example of this is the excellent set published (and used in his recordings) by James Ehnes. Henning Kraggerud also does so; they are admirably close to 18th-century style and reflect the nature of his overall interpretations, which move the music forward eagerly.
The opening of K216 gives a clear indication of what is to come. The tempo is swift, balance clarifies the wind instruments, chording is crisp and there are varied dynamic contrasts. Attention to ‘period’ style is admirable and the problem of Mozart’s slightly unclear notation of grace notes is solved by using the principle of ‘when in doubt, go long rather than short’. Most characteristic of all is Kraggerud’s refusal to linger over lyrical moments – he is poetic but never indulgent – and the surprisingly swift Finale also convinces and where, partway through, there is a passage in which Mozart breaks tempo and rhythm, Kraggerud retains the music’s impulse and delightfully accentuates the pizzicato accompaniment.
I have long thought K218 to be the gentlest and most reflective of Mozart’s Violin Concertos and I often recall Johanna Martzy’s beautiful performance. Kraggerud takes a different view and except in the Andante cantabile, again enhanced by a most stylish cadenza, he concentrates on the passionate elements lurking beneath the surface. The Finale has the marking Rondeau: andante grazioso, moreover a further indication is Allegro ma non troppo. Some may query whether the swift lightness heard here is truly representative of the composer’s instructions, yet it is consistent with the overall interpretation. There is also the occasional cleverly crafted but never over-elaborate decorative ornament.
Kraggerud’s fiery view makes interesting listening in K219 where the required tempo changes in the outer movements are kept integral. Given Kraggerud’s whirlwind approach to faster sections, where he is not afraid to take use ‘throwaway’ phrasing, it is to his credit that he does not lose the cohesion. The coolness of his flowing reading of the Adagio is persuasive, the inherent romanticism of the music conveyed effectively, and there are interesting examples of double-stopping in the cadenza. The extemporised links provided by Kraggerud are entirely suitable and the lightness of approach is charming without precluding appropriate forcefulness in the Finale’s ‘Turkish’ episode.
The clear-cut shaping of these works is so impressive that one almost forgets that immaculate accuracy and unblemished intonation that is necessary from all to achieve such vivid results. Kraggerud’s approach may cause raised eyebrows in some quarters, but for me this is a five-star release.