Build­ing a Li­brary

The finest record­ings of Mozart’s vi­o­lin concertos

BBC Music Magazine - - Contents -

The work

Lit­tle more than 50 years ago, it was widely thought Mozart had com­posed eight vi­o­lin concertos. Most no­to­ri­ous of all was the so-called Ade­laide (‘No. 8’), which Mar­ius Casadesus (un­cle of pi­anist Robert) claimed in 1933 to have re­stored from an au­then­tic two-stave man­u­script. It was duly pub­lished, pre­miered by Jelly d’aranyi and even recorded by Ye­hudi Menuhin be­fore, in 1977, Casadesus con­fessed it was all a hoax and en­tirely his own work. ‘No. 6’ in E flat was claimed by Mozart’s near-con­tem­po­rary Jo­hann Friedrich Eck to have been played to him by the com­poser. Rig­or­ous stylis­tic anal­y­sis and com­par­i­son with Eck’s own mu­sic in the late 1970s re­vealed the Mozart story was al­most cer­tainly a prod­uct of Eck’s colour­ful imag­i­na­tion.

‘No. 7’ in D K271a – some­times known as the Kolb, after Salzburg vi­o­lin­ist Franz Xaver Kolb – re­mains a sub­ject for heated de­bate. The prob­lem here is that it is in­dis­putably a fine piece, full of mem­o­rable ideas, so much so that sev­eral ex­perts have con­ceded it could at least in part be by Mozart. The jury is still out, the of­fi­cial ver­dict be­ing that its au­thor­ship is ‘doubt­ful’ rather than merely ‘spu­ri­ous’. Which leaves five gen­uine, thor­oughly au­then­ti­cated concertos – No. 1 in B flat K207, No. 2 in D K211, No. 3 in G K216, No. 4 in D K218 and No. 5 in A K219, all com­posed in Salzburg in 1775, although it is pos­si­ble that No. 1 may date from a cou­ple of years ear­lier.

Re­mark­ably, Mozart was just 19 years of age at the time, although no less as­ton­ish­ing is the fact that he was ef­fec­tively a spare-time vi­o­lin prodigy.

his fa­ther Leopold, au­thor of a highly in­flu­en­tial Trea­tise on the Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples of Vi­o­lin Play­ing (1756) and a fine or­ches­tral player, con­stantly de­spaired at Mozart’s re­luc­tance to ap­ply him­self to his

Leopold Mozart de­spaired at his son’s re­luc­tance to ap­ply him­self to the vi­o­lin

vi­o­lin stud­ies. Yet it would seem he had the kind of nat­u­ral tal­ent that made prac­tis­ing al­most an ir­rel­e­vance. Aged seven, he made his con­certo de­but with the Salzburg Court Or­ches­tra hav­ing been re­cently ap­pointed sec­ond vice-kapellmeis­ter, and by the time he com­posed his own vi­o­lin concertos he was a sea­soned soloist. Two years later, fol­low­ing a con­cert in Mu­nich, for which he did prac­tise, he wrote ex­cit­edly to his fa­ther ‘I played as though I was the great­est fid­dler in all Europe,’ to which his fa­ther replied de­spon­dently that if only he’d play with his ‘whole heart and mind’, he prob­a­bly was! An­to­nio Brunetti, who be­came con­cert­mas­ter of the Salzburg Court Or­ches­tra in 1777, de­spaired that Mozart ‘could play any­thing, if he put his mind to it.’ Mozart was also an ac­com­plished-enough vi­ola player to per­form in an ad hoc quar­tet whose other com­poser-mem­bers were ★aydn, Dit­ters­dorf and Van­hal.

It is still un­clear as to why Mozart should have de­voted him­self at this time with such in­ten­sity to the vi­o­lin con­certo, a genre to which he never re­turned. The most likely ex­pla­na­tion is that he had be­come ex­as­per­ated per­form­ing other com­posers’ mu­sic and wanted some of his own to play. Yet we know that Kolb and Brunetti both played the concertos, as Mozart went to the con­sid­er­able trou­ble of writ­ing a new cen­tral Ada­gio for No. 5 be­cause Brunetti found the orig­i­nal (which sur­vives as

K261) ‘too ar­ti­fi­cial’. There is also cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence that the sep­a­rate Rondo in B flat K269 may have been com­posed for the First Con­certo as a re­place­ment for the orig­i­nal at Brunetti’s re­quest. Indis­putable, how­ever, is the crescendo of cre­ative imag­i­na­tion that oc­curred dur­ing this pe­riod, with each con­certo ef­fec­tively trump­ing its pre­de­ces­sor, cli­max­ing in the A ma­jor K219, which breaks with con­ven­tion by first an­nounc­ing the soloist via a brief, slow in­ter­lude.

Opin­ions as to how th­ese ex­quis­ite pieces should be per­formed have changed beyond all recog­ni­tion since they were first recorded. Yet lis­ten­ing through the 40-odd com­plete cy­cles avail­able, I was sur­prised how quickly the ear ad­justed (for the most part) to each per­for­mance’s stylis­tic pro­cliv­i­ties, when­ever soloist, or­ches­tra and con­duc­tor/di­rec­tor achieved a mu­si­cal sym­bio­sis at the high­est level. In the end it came down to four record­ings that cap­ti­vated so en­tirely I could barely keep my hand off the re­peat but­ton….

Turn the page to dis­cover the best record­ings of Mozart’s Vi­o­lin Concertos Nos 1-5

Fid­dle fid­dle: recorded by Ye­hudi Menuhin, Mozart’s Ade­laide Con­certo was a hoax writ­ten by Mar­ius Casadesus (far right)

Fam­ily ties:Mozart com­pos­ing in Vi­enna; (be­low) dis­grun­tled dad, Leopold

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.