By John J. Puccio
As we know, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was more of a piano guy than a violinist, which may explain why he wrote about twenty-three original, numbered piano concertos (OK, twenty-seven altogether, but the first four were mostly arrangements of other people’s work) and only five violin concertos. What’s more, Mozart wrote all of his violin concertos around 1775 while still rather young, nineteen or twenty, and then sort of gave up on the genre. His violin concertos are certainly tuneful and expressive, but he would leave it to others, like Beethoven and Brahms, to develop the violin concerto to its fullest potential.
Audiences for the past two hundred-odd years, though, have appreciated Mozart’s violin concertos for their appealing melodies and expressive style. Interestingly, although Mozart was also a violin prodigy, he obviously preferred the piano. Whatever, one usually has to buy two or three separate albums to own all five of the concertos by a single performer, so already it's a good deal to find Ms. Skride’s collection complete on two discs.
So, how does Ms. Skride handle the concertos, considering that almost every major violinist of the stereo age has recorded all or most of them? Competition is, indeed, deep, with Rachel Barton Pine, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Arthur Grumiaux, David Oistrakh, Lara St. John, and others leading the way. I suppose, as with anything in music, it obviously comes down to a matter personal taste. Each violinist has his or her own style, and certainly Ms. Skride adds her own distinctive and pleasing touch.
Ms. Skride adopts tempos that are moderate, if slightly favoring the fast side. Still, they are not as quick as many historically informed performances can be, and they never seem hurried, rushed, or in any way frenetic. The Allegros are high spirited, the slow movements flowing and serene, She especially judges the popular Second Concerto well, imbuing it with the sparkle it needs, while also catching all the gentleness of the Andante, which contrasts well with her sensitive. lyrical treatment of the faster outer movements.
And so it goes. These are performances both lively and expressive on the one hand and delicate and perceptive on the other. I cannot see how they would fail to impress any lover of Mozart specifically or any lover of classical music more generally.
Ms. Skride fills out the second disc with three short violin pieces by Mozart: The Adagio in E major, K. 261; the Rondo in B-flat major, K. 269; and the Rondo in C major, K. 373. The performers apply the same skill here they did with the concertos.
Producer Johannes Kernmayer, supervisor Roland Kistner, and engineer Martin Klebahn recorded the concertos at Orebro, Musikhogskolan in October 2019. Although the sound displays a touch more bloom than I would have liked, it manages a good depth of field, and the orchestra allows the soloist a healthy degree of transparency. Ms. Skride is well integrated with the ensemble, neither too far out front nor too far back, and her contributions are well reproduced. Although the mid-to-upper bass appears a mite heavy, it does not obscure the soloist, whose contributions, as I say, remain realistically clean.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: