Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mozart's wind concertos

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the second instalment, I re-examine the wind concertos of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

My version: Elliot/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Abbado (DG, 1985, 18 minutes)
Not Mozart's best work, but bassoon concertos are so rare that this one still gets a decent exposure - and objectively it is probably the best in the small repertoire. Mozart makes the most out of what is in the end hardly a suitable concertante instrument, logically emphasizing the upper registers, but with some nice grumpy sounds as well in the Allegro and the Rondo. The Andante even makes the bassoon sound like a melancholic singer in beautiful melodic lines.

My version: Aurele Nicolet/Royal Concertgebouworchestra/Zinman (Philips, 1978, 24 minutes)
A typical Mozart concerto, unmistakingly by his hand, and very pleasing to listen to. The Allegro gives the soloist ample occasion to shine with melodic cadenzas. The Adagio's first notes foreshadow Johann Strauss' famous Blue Danube theme, but then meanders off. Usually the slow movements are the ones that impress me the most in the Mozart concertos, but this is not one of the best. The closing Rondo is of a higher level again, but in the end, this concerto leaves an average feeling in the Mozart concerto oeuvre - and is yet one of the best flute concertos of all time.

My version (flute): Nicolet/Royal Concertgebouworchestra/Zinman (Philips, 1978, 20 minutes)
My version (oboe): Still/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Abbado (DG, 1985, 20 minutes)
This concerto exists in two version. It is now generally accepted that it was originally an oboe concerto, which Mozart himself transcribed for flute. The Allegro has a very optimistic sunny sound and gives the soloist every chance to shine. The Andante is beautiful, and the final Rondo quirky, with one of his most enduring themes. Oboe or flute? They both have their own character, the flute more playful, the oboe more wistful, especially in the lower registers. In the end, I have a clear preference for the oboe which makes the flute version somewhat redundant.

My version: Schulz&Zabaleta/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Boehm (DG, 1976, 30 minutes)
I include this double concerto as the flute gets far more chance to shine than the harp here. I find the opening Allegro in general rather uninspired in its themes, although some of the flute play is quite exquisite. The Andantino has far better melodies, and makes better use of the flute/harp interaction, especially in the last 2 minutes. The closing Rondo is pleasing, but nothing special.

Horn Concerto 2 in E-flat Major, KV417 (1783)
My version: Purvis/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 13 minutes)
Joyful play by the soloist in the Allegro, but I would have preferred stronger melodies from the orchestra here. The Andante brings just that, with the horn following suit. The Rondo is quirky, but in the end somewhat superficial.

Horn Concerto 3 in E-flat Major, KV447 (1786)
My version: Purvis/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 16 minutes)
Right from the start of the Allegro, Mozart throws in great rhythmic melodies, and less usual lines for the horn (no hunting associations here). The Romance that follows has the horn leading in one of his most beautiful melodies.The final allegro has one of the best up tempo melodies Mozart came up with. My favourite horn concerto in the repertoire, regardless of composer.

My version: Jolley/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 17 minutes)
The Allegro maestoso has some of the best horn lines of the four concertos. The highly melodic Romance continues the high quality of this concerto, and the closing rondo, which evokes a hunt in a very subtle way, rounds off the concerto in a very upbeat manner. My second favourite horn concerto in the repertoire, regardless of composer.

Horn Concerto 1 in D major, KV412 (1791)
My version: Jolley/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 9 minutes)
Although now known as the first, it was actually the last of the four horn concertos that Mozart composed. It is a mini-concerto with only two movements (no Andante), and calling for far less virtuosity from the soloist than the other three - and Mozart obviously kept his better themes for other works in his final year.

My version: Prinz/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Boehm (DG, 1974, 31 minutes)
Although Mozart is not in my top 5 favourite composers, I think very highly of him - and if I could save only one of his works, it would be the clarinet concerto. The allegro opens with a typical jolly rhythmic Mozart melody, after which the clarinet leads the dance temporarily into slightly more melancholy terrain, only to come up with a joyous mood at the end. The lullaby-like melody with which the clarinet opens the Adagio will immediately be recognized by many non-classical music lovers, as it was used in the soundtrack of Out of Africa. This movement was one of the favourite pieces of music of my mother, and one of the last she played before she died. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes - literally. The Rondo offers relief, with more magic melodies. The best clarinet concerto ever written, and a candidate for the honour of best concerto for any instrument.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: clarinet
Essential:
Important: oboe, horn 3, horn 4
Good to have: bassoon, flute 1, flute&harp, horn 2
Not required: flute 2, horn 1