MOZART Complete Violin Concertos
Mozart’s violin concertos are never far from the centre of any violinist’s repertoire. Written while the composer was still a teenager, they can hardly be considered among his deepest music (the string concerto masterpiece is, of course, the magnificent Sinfonia concertante of 1779 80), yet they maintain all the galant charm and suavity of the period as we hear the boy coming of age, experimenting with forms and growing more harmonically daring and melodically assured.
For Isabelle Faust’s recording of the five concertos, she teams up for the first time with the period instruments of Il Giardino Armonico. Giovanni Antonini is the nominal conductor but these wonderful performances have the air of chamber music, of close listening between soloist, band and director. Faust isn’t spotlit in the remarkably clear engineering but seems part of the ensemble, her sound growing out of the corporate entity to glitter, coax, snarl and soar as required. She has always struck me as a player who cannot help but look beyond the notes, examining each phrase and paragraph to wring out of them more than simply phrases and paragraphs. She varies her ornamentation delightfully and, as an added treat, plays cadenzas and lead-ins specially written by the keyboard player Andreas Staier, who knows a thing or two about 18th-century style.
Faust doesn’t couple the Sinfonia concertante here (the mouth waters at the prospect of a future recording of it) but fills the disc with the three extant single-movement pieces Mozart wrote for violin and orchestra: an Adagio and a Rondo from 1776 and another Rondo from 1781, shortly before his break from Salzburg and his freelance decade in Vienna. In the E major Adagio (K261), especially, there is a radiance to her playing that, in a way, brings these standalone works in from the cold, elevating them to the level of the concertos. It’s not all lush sonority, though: Faust’s vibrato-lite tone adds a real sting to sforzandos, while her high-lying passagework is rock-solid in terms of accuracy and intonation, and her unwillingness to play rows of semiquavers as strings of equal notes makes for some piquant inflections. As for the ‘Turkish’ episode in the final concerto, the slapped pizzicatos and astringent spiccatos really add spice to the drama – although even here Faust plays as part of an ensemble, not as a foot-stomping star soloist.
The world is not short of recordings of this music and, in true Gramophone fashion, it must be acknowledged that most listeners will have their favourites from the innumerable classic discs that have appeared over the decades. However, for period instruments, period sensibility and state-of-the-art engineering, you may find yourself hard-pressed to better this thought-provoking and eminently enjoyable cycle.