Mozart: Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (SACD review)

Also, Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds. Per Flemstrom, flute; Birgitte Volan Havik, harp; Pavel Sokolov, oboe; Leif Arne Pedersen, clarinet; Per Hannisdal, bassoon; Inger Besserrudhagen, horn. Alan Buribayev and Arvid Engegard, conductors; Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. LAWO Classics LWC1071.

The Flute and Harp Concerto is one of the most charming things Mozart ever wrote. It always surprises me that more artists don't record it. Still, there are plenty of good recordings of it to choose among, and this one from flutist Per Flemstrom and harpist Birgitte Volan Havik with Alan Buribayev conducting the Oslo Philharmonic takes its place among the best. It's a lovely work, given a lovely performance. The Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds as a coupling is like icing on the cake.

Mozart wrote his Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in C Major, K. 299, in 1778, and, interestingly, it's the only concerto he wrote that includes a harp. Given that people back then still considered the harp an unusual instrument, there wasn't much of a repertoire for it as yet, and listeners found Mozart's combination of flute and harp rather unique. Anyway, my own favorite recording of the concerto is the one featuring Jean-Pierre Rampal and Lilly Laskine on the Erato label, which is neither here nor there except to say that the pairing of Flemstrom and Havik does not suffer by comparison.

Maestro Buribayev and his Oslo players maintain an expressive musical demeanor throughout the concerto, and the soloists play with grace and finesse. Above all, this concerto needs a relaxed, flowing gait, and that's exactly the way Buribayev leads it, taking a cultured, refined approach yet one with a positive, pleasing countenance, too. As I say, it's a lovely performance, with an especially beautiful slow movement in which the performers bring out all of the music's most-shimmering, radiant qualities.

Alan Buribayev
In addition, we get Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds in E-flat Major, K. 297B, (for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and orchestra, originally written in 1778 for flute, oboe, horn, bassoon, and orchestra). Somehow, the version we usually hear today (and the one this disc) substitutes a clarinet for the flute, as well as including other changes, leading some scholars to doubt K. 297B's authenticity. Whatever, we have what we have, and the soloists and orchestra on the present recording do a fine job with it.

For the Sinfonia we get an entirely different set of soloists, of course, but also a different conductor, Arvid Engegard. Whatever, the work sounds happy enough, and the soloists are all quite good at their jobs. OK, I thought Buribayev might have brought a slightly greater sense of exuberance to his part of the show than Engegard does, while Engegard follows a bit more-exacting course. Still, the final Andante con variazoni comes off with more than a little pizzazz and makes a fitting ending for the program.

Producer Vegard Landaas and engineers Arne Akselberg and Thomas Wolden recorded the music at the Oslo Concert Hall, Oslo, Norway in November 2012 and January 2013. They made the album for hybrid SACD playback, so you have the choice of two-channel stereo or multichannel playback using an SACD player or two-channel stereo from a standard CD player. I listened to the disc's SACD layer in two-channel stereo.

The sound appears extremely well balanced in terms of left-to-right stereo spread and overall frequency response. No part of the range stands out as too bright or too dull, and the solo instruments appear well integrated into the rest of the ensemble, not too far forward from the rest of the orchestra. The dynamic range seems a little restricted, and there isn't a lot of impact involved, but that's perhaps as it should be with this kind of music. Bass and treble extensions are also a bit limited, and midrange transparency is only moderate. Nevertheless, it's a fairly natural sound, coming through pretty much as one would hear this music in a concert hall from a modest distance.


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.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa