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Mozart: Violin Concertos 3, 4 & 5 / Steinbacher

Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Pentatone   Catalog #: 186479   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Arabella Steinbacher
Conductor:  Daniel Dodds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Strings
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In the booklet accompanying this issue, Arabella Steinbacher writes: ‘These concertos have been with me since early childhood…I feel they are very close to my heart.’ Anybody tempted to dismiss this as a marketing ploy will soon change their minds on listening to these performances – they really do give the impression of a project backed by an unusual degree of sympathetic understanding.

Steinbacher has a way of searching out what gives each passage, each phrase, its individuality. Nothing is forced: the quick movements are fast enough for the passagework to sound brilliant but always with space for elegant shaping. The Lucerne Festival Strings are a
Read more small enough body to allow even accompanying lines to be played in a positive, lively manner.

These are highly individual, deeply satisfying accounts.

– Gramophone

MOZART Violin Concertos Nos. 3–5 Arabella Steinbacher (vn); Daniel Dodds, cond; Lucerne Festival Strings PENTATONE 186479 (SACD: 78:10)

Violinist Arabella Steinbacher proclaims her devotion to Mozart’s violin concertos in her booklet notes, stating that recording them has been a project she’s long thought about. In fact, the short biography included in the booklet relates the close relationship she’s had in particular with the Third Concerto.

PentaTone’s recorded sound combines sharp definition with rich representation of the orchestra’s lower registers as well as its wind parts—and of the reverberant venue, the Zurich Oberstrass Church, in which the recording took place in September 2013. Steinbacher glows in the first movement’s solo passages, with the passagework stropped to a keen edge not only by her but by the engineers as well. She’s chosen Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s cadenzas for the concerto. The extra clarity of the recorded sound almost makes the cadenza seem to have been inserted by the editors, after recording with a different microphone placement. In the slow movement, she floats dreamily above the orchestra; but in this case, it’s not simply a passage dropped from heaven, as musicologist Alfred Einstein described it, despite the transcendent beauty of her reading, especially in the middle section; but she exhibits a strong personality in the outer sections that may mar the serenely Classical effect for some listeners but, on the other hand, sets upon the movement an elegant personal signature. Schneiderhan’s cadenza fits into this kind of reading even more seamlessly than would Sam Franko’s more popular one. The finale bustles in this reading; and the high-definition recorded sound highlights the dialogues in the tuttis between the strings and the winds. She and the orchestra impart an infectious rustic bounce to the central section. Does this recording rival Anne-Sophie Mutter’s debut on LP with Herbert von Karajan? Perhaps Mutter’s simpler approach (Steinbacher in general attacks the strings more aggressively in passagework) will give some listeners the sense that in Mutter’s reading they’re hearing the composer himself; but Steinbacher comes very close, especially in its slow movement, in which she arguably surpasses the older (or, at the time of the recording, actually younger) violinist.

The orchestra also exudes cheerfulness in the Fourth Concerto’s opening tutti; and Steinbacher prolongs that Affekt well into the movement. Once again, the recorded sound reveals the snap of Steinbacher’s bow in passagework, more extensive—and more difficult—in this concerto than in the earlier one, and showcases her lower registers. Once again, too, the cadenza (this time by Joseph Joachim) sounds a bit closer up than the solos with orchestra. Steinbacher lends the slow movement’s main theme extra weight with her rich (but not quite wobbly) vibrato. The later passages on the G-string display the same rich resonance as do those in the Allegro , and on occasion she floats as weightlessly as she does in the earlier concerto’s Adagio . A writer once mentioned that the final up-and-down scale at the movement’s end shows how delightful Mozart could make such a walk—and Steinbacher achieves all its potential. Ruggiero Ricci picked the concerto’s finale as the most difficult piece in all the literature because of its awkward string-crossings; but they certainly don’t sound awkward here. She and the orchestra hiss and spit in the triplet episode.

The Fifth Concerto’s opening tutti sounds brisk, perhaps all the better as a contrast with Steinbacher’s solo entry. In the movement proper, however, she returns to lusty merrymaking. She has chosen Joachim’s cadenza (a violist once approached me in a master class and asked, “Isn’t that an insufferable cadenza?”) and manages to make something out of its (academic?) technical complexities. Ronald Vermeulen relates in his notes that Mozart himself preferred this concerto, although he wrote the Adagio in E Major, K 261, as a substitute slow movement for it because, as Leopold Mozart suggested in a letter, the violinist Antonio Brunetti found the original one too artificial (in that Adagio , Mozart used flutes instead of oboes, just as he had in the slow movement of the G-Major Concerto). Steinbacher’s performance makes an especially strong case for the now invariably played earlier movement. In the “Turkish” finale, she effectively contrasts the suave minuet-like main theme with the clattering episodes at its center. (Those alert to detail will note that she varies the appogiaturas in the 16th-note episode).

More arch, perhaps, than Mutter or Arthur Grumiaux, two great standards in these works, Steinbacher still manages to provide a sweetly pure reading of the three concertos, and with the recorded sound provided by PentaTone, her versions should be highly competitive even with them. Very warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 5 in A major, K 219 "Turkish" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Arabella Steinbacher (Violin)
Conductor:  Daniel Dodds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Strings
Written: 1775 
Concerto for Violin no 4 in D major, K 218 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Arabella Steinbacher (Violin)
Conductor:  Daniel Dodds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Strings
Period: Classical 
Written: 1775; Salzburg, Austria 
Concerto for Violin no 3 in G major, K 216 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Arabella Steinbacher (Violin)
Conductor:  Daniel Dodds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lucerne Festival Strings
Period: Classical 
Written: 1775; Salzburg, Austria 

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