Mozart: Violin Concertos 1 & 5 (CD review)

Also, Sinfonia Concertante. Vilde Frang, violin; Maxim Rysanov, violin. Jonathan Cohen, Arcangelo. Warner Classics 0825645276776.

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.

Vilde Frang
The program ends with the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for violin and viola, K364, from 1779, and here violist Maxim Rysanov plays the second part with Ms. Frang. The piece is a sort of cross between a concerto and a symphony and displays a more notable weightiness and maturity in its orchestration than any of the regular violin concertos. What's more, it remains the highlight of the set, and the two soloists perform it with enthusiasm. There is a palpable joy in the opening Allegro maestoso, a sorrowful intensity about the Andante, and an expressive vivacity in the closing Presto. Arcangelo provide splendid support throughout all three pieces. The performances will not disappoint Ms. Frang's fans nor Mozart's.

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:

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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.

Mission Statement

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