There must be something about Mozart that especially attracts talented female violinists to his work. In the past couple of years alone, I recall reviewing Mozart violin concertos from Arabella Steinbacher, Rachel Barton Pine, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Lara St. John, and probably others I've forgotten. Now, we get Mozart's first and fifth violin concertos, along with the Sinfonia Concertante, performed by the young Norwegian-born violinist Vilde Frang, accompanied by Maestro Jonathan Cohen and his equally young (formed in 2010) chamber orchestra, Arcangelo.
Things begin with the Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major, K. 207, which Mozart wrote somewhere between 1773-1775. It has an abundance of high spirits about it, which Ms. Frang appears to enjoy. In keeping with the work's generally happy, cheerful outlook, Ms. Frang takes it at moderately fast tempos. Yet it's never so fast as to sound breathless or leave one fatigued. It's a sweet, flowing pace, punctuated by some felicitous touches of rubato and dynamics along the way.
Next is the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, written in 1775. People often refer to it as the "Turkish Concerto" because of some Turkish-inflected elements in the finale. Whatever, the first movement alone plays like a miniature concerto in three parts: fast, slow, fast. The second and third movements, an Adagio and Minuetto, are graceful and smiling. As befits the slightly greater seriousness of this final violin concerto, Ms. Frang slows down the gait a bit. She also takes longer-breathed pauses now and then and puts more emphasis on certain phrases, giving the music a more adventurous texture and demeanor than we usually hear. This may still be a youthful composition, but it sounds much more well developed in Ms. Frang's reading.
Producer Stephen Johns and engineer Philip Hobbs recorded the music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London in April 2014. The sound is very smooth and very natural, with an excellent frequency balance. There is no undue brightness, tubbiness, or excessive warmth. The violin appears well integrated with the orchestra, still clearly the star of the show but without being too far out in front of the other players. Midrange transparency is fine, as is orchestral depth and air. This is ear-friendly sound, the kind you might expect to find in a good concert hall, as opposed to a more aggressive studio sound.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: