Recent Recordings

Mozart — Sinfonia Concertante, Violin Concerto No. 2, Rondo in C

HENRYK SZERYNG, violin
BRUNO GIURANNA, viola
NEW PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA
conducted by SIR ALEXANDER GIBSON

K. 364 SINFONIA CONCERTANTE

In 1779, Mozart wrote his Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, for violin and viola. This descendant of the concerto grosso was a hybrid form, in which a small group of solo instruments made their mark, in alternation with the rest of the orchestra, within a three-movement but quasi-symphonic context. It was on his return to Salzburg, after some arduous travel, that Mozart wrote the work. Though not yet in his creative prime, he was no longer a precociously brilliant youth but a marvellously gifted young man with an ever-widening, ever more subtle range of expression. This can be heard at once in the Sinfonia Concertante, where the emphasis is put exclusively upon the two designated soloists, the violin and viola. The orchestra omits trumpets, but once again, the texture benefits in richness from periodic patches of divisi viola writing and from the occasional independence of the double-bass line. The soloists tend, for the most part, to play in thirds and sixths or in unison and octaves, or to follow each other in close imitation or again in open statement, restatement, and counterstatement. Without any loss in freshness, the musical language is richer, more sophisticated, and more flexible than earlier compositions, while the work's interior planning relates to the piano concertos of that date rather than to the previous violin concertos. As prodigal of themes as is the exposition of the first movement, yet another is launched by the violin in the development, during the closing stages of which the tangy tone of the oboes and warmer timbre of the horns cut through the filigree of soloist arpeggios and pizzicato accompaniment. The concentrated Andante in C minor is based on two tunes, both introduced by the orchestral violins and elaborated in passionate rhapsody by the soloists. Chromaticism, canonic writing, and the dispersal of three crotchets in a bar into a variety of smaller time units are merely some of the devices that contribute to the expressiveness of the movement. The finale is an exhilarating rondo, characterized by its wealth of melodies, disposed, so to say, in compartments. First comes the orchestra, with separate themes for the first violins, oboes, and horns, the whole lot rounded off by a cheerful fanfare. Enter the soloists, the viola echoing the violin, their second theme adorned with triplets, and their third, high on their top strings, treated in close imitation. Towards the end, the horns make a dramatic entry with their private motive (which the soloists know better than to borrow), and with a final flurry of scales and basic "the-end-is-in-sight" harmonies, the Sinfonia Concertante is over. The cadenzas are, incidentally, Mozart's own, and an object lesson in meaningful brevity.

Violin Concerto, K. 211

The five violin concertos central to Mozart's works for orchestra and solo violin were all composed in 1775. K. 211 is chronologically the second of these and is scored for two oboes, two horns, and strings, the forces regularly required in string concertos of that period. Why Mozart should suddenly have produced five violin concertos between April and December of that year is a matter for conjecture. It used to be presumed that he wrote them for his own performance, but it is now thought that they were, in fact, composed for the Konzertmeister of the court orchestra, Brunetti. Traces of the Baroque concerto sometimes linger in the early Classical concerto, and K. 211 reveals a strong affinity with pre-Classical traditions. At the same time, it has a characteristic intimacy and wit, and although it is in a major key, it has long stretches of eloquent discourse between violin and orchestra that, especially in the slow movement, veer towards melancholy. The activity of the orchestra is confined within modest limits and subordinated to the solo instrument, and the wind section is not allocated "obbligato" or solo roles independent of the accompaniment. There are also fairly lengthy sections in which the soloist is accompanied only by both tutti violins, an idea which Mozart may possibly have borrowed from the violin concertos of Pietro Nardini, whom he met in Florence in the spring of 1770. Daring, sparkling episodes come as a surprise in all three movements, but the particular appeal of the work is the remarkable way Mozart, in the course of his development and in his determination to sever ties with a tradition already beginning to stagnate, succeeded in finding not only himself, but also new means of expression fully in keeping with the spirit of the time. The first movement opens with a short fanfare motif. This is immediately developed further in tempo moderato in what might be termed a characteristic early classical approach, until the young master’s second lyrical theme creates the opportunity for more delightful music in his own inimitable style. The ensuing dialogue between these two principal subjects provides the basis for the further development of the whole movement. The second movement is strongly reminiscent of an aria, in other words, a truly lyrical intermezzo. The orchestra provides the first part (comparable with a ritornello) of this extensive "aria," while the soloist, still strictly adhering to the fundamental style, repeats the subject and leads it aloft over the orchestra by way of a short development, incorporating a return via the minor dominant, to a symmetrical recapitulation. This offers the soloist an opportunity for a short, attractive coda before the movement draws to a close. The finale is introduced by the soloist in the manner of a French rondeau movement. The orchestra repeats the phrase as a ritornello, after which the soloist continues with a new subject. In this way, the episodes, separated by ritornellos, alternate intriguingly. There is a delightful minor episode and much energetic, lively interplay.

RONDO IN C., K. 373

Mozart's letters, we know that this rondo was written for the Salzburg court violinist Brunetti and, further, that it was performed in Vienna on April 8, 1781, at the residence of Rudolph Joseph, Prince of Colloredo-Melz and Wallsee, father of Mozart's employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Written in Vienna only days before this performance, the work is scored (again like K. 211) for two oboes, two horns, and strings. 

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