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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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa