Notes and Editorial Reviews
These are witty and deft performances, with a feeling of freedom and effortlessness, the dialogue between instruments having a natural, conversational air.
Mozart's great Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, written in Salzburg in 1779 under the impact of his recent travels in Mannheim and Paris, is one of those works that hardly ever fails in performance. This new version, the first I have heard with period instruments, characteristically sets rather quick tempos as compared with traditional ones, and initially I wondered whether it wasn't a shade light-weight, emotionally speaking: in the Andante particularly, where those wonderful crescendos of expression between the passionately duetting violin and viola
seemed a shade lower-key than usual, and the climaxes at their dissolution—in increasingly tortuous music as the movement proceeds—less obviously justified.
Well, the less intense style here does in the event justify itself in a reading of the work that is clear, spirited and very natural in its handling of expression. The long musical paragraphs of the Andante are in fact beautifully judged, with much delicacy in the detail; and the first movement's lively rhythms and pointed accents, with vigorous and well-balanced tuttis, have an unusual freshness that I find very appealing. The soloists are duly athletic. Sometimes the violin playing seems a shade matter-of-fact, but there are poetic touches too even if many more from the viola player. She follows Mozart's directions, unlike many violists today (though Lionel Tertis used to), in tuning her viola up a semitone and thereby brightening its tone, so that it competes on more nearly equal terms with the violin; this also makes the music a good deal easier to play. The dialogue between instruments is in fact happily carried off, with a natural, conversational air, and the cadenzas have an appropriately improvisatory quality. Just occasionally there is an instant where the intonation seems marginal; and there are some readings in conflict with the New Mozart Edition score—the oboes down an octave in bars 242-3 of the first movement, a D natural from the solo violin instead of D flat in bar 99 of the second. The finale is deftly and wittily done, with a pleasant feeling of freedom and effortlessness.
The Concertone (the word simply means 'large concerto'—whether it refers here to the time-scale or the number of soloists I am not certain) is a much earlier piece, in a relaxed style very much akin to that of J. C. Bach's works of the sinfonia concertante type, especially in its way of drawing in other soloists (oboe, cello, a couple of violas) from time to time. I have heard performances more affectionate, and more graceful in the slow movement, but find this one as satisfying as any, all round, for its sure grasp of the style and especially its good feeling for the leisurely character of the work. Once or twice the violin playing seems a little choppy, but the oboe playing especially is of very high quality.
Altogether then, a record I would commend to anyone who likes Mozart on period instruments, particularly as the recording offers clear and wellbalanced textures. It is odd that a record so well prepared should be issued with a booklet that says virtually nothing about the Sinfonia Concertante except that the viola should be tuned up (the note is wisely anonymous, even if the translations are attributed), and which altogether omits to mention that Marilyn McDonald plays the viola.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [11/1988]
reviewing the original release, DHM 49006
Works on This Recording
Concertone for 2 Violins in C major, K 190 (186E) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Jaap Schröder (Violin),
Marilyn McDonald (Violin)
Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1774; Salzburg, Austria
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