Violin Concerto No.1 in B flat, K207
Violin Concerto No.2 in D, K211
Violin Concerto No.3 in G, K216
Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K218
Violin Concerto No.5 in A, K219
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin and viola, K364
Giuliano Carmignola (violin) & Danusha Waśkiewicz (viola)
Recorded November 2007 in Salone Bolognini, Bologna
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: ARCHIV PRODUKTION
477 7371 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 9 minutes
Belying his increasing maturity, Claudio Abbado’s conducting of Mozart has been getting leaner, keener and even more insightful in recent years – not that he’s ever fallen short of interpretative mastery with this composer. Teamed up here with his recently-formed young Italian ensemble, Orchestra Mozart, and his former protege, skilled period-violin specialist Giuliano Carmignola, Abbado makes this familiar music appear fresh and vital, as if you’re hearing it for the first time.
The most striking thing about these recordings of Mozart’s numbered violin concertos is the absolute homogeneity of the playing: around 30 alert musicians totally tuned to the vision of their maestro. Another striking thing is the chamber-like essence of that vision, especially in the intensely intimate ‘slow’ movements. The tempos of these are brisk, but so convincing they often make ‘traditional’ versions sound unjustifiably indulgent.
Occasionally I could have wished for a little more weight in these central movements; but it is impossible not to be won over by the gossamer-like delicacy of soloist and orchestra. The outer movements bristle with vibrancy and brio with articulation throughout being crisp and impeccably phrased. Abbado and Company really bring this music alive – a great achievement in early Mozart, which is easy to treat as no more than chocolate-box beauty.
Another remarkable fact about these recordings is that, in tandem with the release of Mozart symphonies with the same orchestra, they are the first (I believe) that Abbado has made with ‘period’ instruments. No one could accuse this 75-year old of being set in his ways! The reason this revelation comes so far into this review, however, is that it is almost an irrelevance: Abbado proves that choice of instruments is a minor factor in achieving compelling performances. His excellent “Die Zauberflöte” for Deutsche Grammophon (from 2006), with the modern-instrument Mahler Chamber Orchestra, is in the same lithe mould as these renditions with the period-instrument Orchestra Mozart – which enhances Abbado’s approach with even greater lightness and transparency of texture.
The charismatic Carmignola is a superb exponent of these concertos, taking the music seriously while injecting an infectious sense of fun. For the most part he uses Franco Gulli’s tasteful cadenzas. In the Sinfonia concertante – the most developed composition here, a watershed in Mozart’s writing – Carmignola is ably partnered by violist Danusha Waśkiewicz. Finely nuanced, but never bogged down by detail, this performance is sprightlier than many, yet it still conveys the full emotional range of this extraordinary work. The sotto voce playing in the central Andante (it will come as a surprise to some to discover that it isn’t played adagio) goes straight to the heart; and the delightfully impish finale is a marvel of precision ensemble and joie de vivre.
The studio recording is clear and immediate, with the soloists well-balanced. There are many fine recordings of these works available, each offering their own insights; but few convey such unaffected vibrancy and passion.