Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos. 1-3 (CD review)

Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante. Virgin Classics 0946 3 44706 2.

Having apparently exhausted the repertoire of Vivaldi a few years before, Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante players embarked on Mozart's five violin concertos, the first three of which appear on this disc. The results are mixed.

Listeners know Biondi well for his hearty, zestful approach to music making, and while this might work fine in baroque pieces, he could have better moderated his performances in these later, classical pieces. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned (yes, probably), but I found most of Biondi's readings here lacking in grace, elegance, or refinement. It's true that the slow, middle movements come off well when Biondi holds up long enough to let the music breathe, especially in the Andante of Concerto No. 2, but the outer movements are just too fast and perfunctory for me.

A quick comparison to older recordings (there's that old-fashioned guy again) by Grumiaux, Mutter, and Oistrakh reveals a wealth of subtlety and nuance that simply isn't there with Biondi. Nor did I find Biondi's playing of the principal parts particularly striking; indeed, most of the time, he tends to fade into the backdrop.

However, there are two compensating factors with Biondi: (1) There is no denying that his interpretations are exciting and provide a kind of exhilarating experience that most of the older recordings do not; and (2) his technique works reasonably well in Concerto No. 3, which is a more fiery and dynamic piece of music than the others to begin with. So, I rather enjoyed hearing No. 3 taken at a brisk pace, as it added to the music's already keen spirit.

The Virgin engineers capture a fairly natural sound, not too close up or too distant, with a warm, wide, full orchestral spread (there are about a dozen performers involved). Inner detail is not exactly vivid, but the overall result is natural and easy on the ear.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa