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  Harmonia Mundi -
  HMU 807385
  Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos. 3-5 - Manze
  Mozart: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 3 in G major K.216, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 4 in D major K.218, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 5 in A major K.219

The English Concert
Andrew Manze
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 2

Site review by ramesh March 25, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
The best summary of Manze's approach to these works comes from the concluding paragraph of his liner notes : "Far from the modern, post-Classical notion of the concerto as a conflict between the one and the many, a Helden-soloist struggling against the massed ranks of an anonymous orchestra, the concerto was a communal effort in the early classical era."
This is a period version of the three greatest of the five accepted Mozart violin concertos, and faces stiff competition on SACD from the ongoing complete cycle by Julia Fischer and colleagues on PentaTone. The orchestra is medium sized, with the strings divided 5, 5, 3, 2, 1. There is no continuo, and the pitch is A=415. The cadenzas are Manze's own, composed succinctly in period style. The frontispiece of the notes reproduces an illustration from Leopold Mozart's treatise on violin playing as to how to hold the bow correctly. Presumably this is to underline these works were composed at the start of the classical era, when composers started to expect a greater dynamic range from the instrument.

Although the Köchel numbers for these works, 216, 218 & 219, indicate plenty of musical water under bridge, Mozart was nineteen when he composed them. It is arguable where the Mozartean genius first showed its incandescence. Some point to the Divertimenti K 136-8, or the piano concerto K 175. The musicologist Alfred Einstein was in never in any doubt that divinity had a lusty how's-your-father in the adagio of the Third Violin concerto. Taken as a group, the five concerti composed within a few months are the first rich strike of the mother lode.

The recording, which is in pure DSD, has the orchestra relatively close-up, with good depth for a small band of players. Faithful to his written statement, the presentation of these works is more in keeping with the early Mozart orchestral divertimenti which have a violin obbligato. All too often in violin concertos, there is a jumbo sized soloist with the orchestra relegated to distant penal servitude. Here, despite the immediate recording, Manze sounds closer to his orchestra than he does to the listener, at least listening in stereo. Nevertheless, his playing is never overwhelmed by the orchestra, but a dialogue. ( This conversational acumen is also present in the admirable Philips SACD of four Mozart violin sonatas by Uchida and Steinberg.) Manze is acclaimed as a period soloist without vinegary tone or acerbity, and continues his deserved technical reputation here. His ornamentation is less florid than in some other period performances. The imaging of the recording is so precise that one can hear the solo violin spread widely between the speaker plane at times; this could possibly be due to Manze swaying his instrument as he plays.

The only bothersome agogic distortion in this disc unfortunately occurs within a few seconds of the start, when Manze horribly slows the ending of the first theme, which is faithfully underlined by the orchestral tutti; like Mikhail Pletnev at almost his most wilful. Otherwise the phrasing is uncontroversial. His performances seem to be a happy medium between modern instruments and the period performances of the earlier baroque violin repertoire. A previous 2 CD set of the concertos in modern instruments, from Pamela Frank with David Zinman in Arte Nova 7432172104 had some semblance of the period style, with a stripped down orchestra and excellent recording. By comparison, Manze is brisker in tempi than Frank except for all of the finales, where she is consistently faster. I have only heard the Fischer PentaTone SACD which includes K216 in a shop. Fischer obviously exploits the tonal resources of the modern violin, and her version can be confidently recommended to those who prefer the nonperiod sound. Admirable a player as Frank is on her CDs, Fischer has a slightly greater dynamic and tonal range in certain passages. I haven't heard Mutter's recent CD only complete set, but criticism has followed it for being self-conscious examples of great instrumental prowess first, with classical proportion taking a back seat. Fischer's performance avoids these pitfalls. However, anyone who is committed to the Fischer SACDs should still consider Manze. This is because of the remarkable amount of detail audible from the orchestra. CDs of these concertos from the very early digital era sounded terrible, with screeching strings and horns sounding like background synthesizers. The excellent recording with period instruments elicits a marvellous range of tonal colours, which would be washed out with modern instuments no matter how impeccable the recording. The horns have timbral character rather than one-fundamental blare, and the closely observed woodwind have a rustic woodiness. The heavenly adagio of K216 sounds more Elysian here than any other performance I've heard, like a premonition of the famous soprano trio from Cosi Fan Tutte, when the muted violins enter, and the violin solo complementing the mood and texture ideally. The vibratoless strings avoid the saccharine tendencies which can make this movement sound treacly rather than chaste.

As for Manze, urbanity is the best word to describe his interpretations. The sound from soloist and orchestra is as mellifluous as one could expect from period instruments, with the relative lack of ornamentation being part of the effect. There appear traces of vibrato in Manze's playing, which again might be related to Leopold Mozart's treatise. With respect to say, Oistrakh on EMI, or Perlman on DGG, the relative lack of dynamic range is apparent in the solo line, but only in side-by-side comparisons. There are numerous passages where the violin flies up the higher reaches, but also touches back on the G or D string. With the modern virtuoso, these emphases on the tonic are more heavily bowed, as an accent, but Manze incorporates them more fully into his melodic line. The full streamlined effect of these performances are avoided because the phrasing is consistently broken into smaller bar units. The comparison is most dramatic in Oistrakh's versions with the Berlin Philharmonic, where the Russian structures the works like a full romantic concerto, with each solo entry building up into the climax of the cadenza. Again, Manze gives the impression these are first cousins to the divertimento with violin solo. Where Manze's version trumps all others for drama is in the finale of the 'Turkish' concerto ( which he tells us is more Ottoman-Hungarian), where the col legno bow slapping on strings from the orchestra is a tour-de-force. It makes a rousing finale to a very worthy disc.

Review by andrewb March 22, 2006 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
On first listening to this disc I was dismayed by the style and performance of Manze and the English Concert Orchestra. The concertos are given in a plain and very direct manner, with some particularly straight violin playing: it is very different from other period instrument performances that I am familiar with. With a period performance like that from Standage and the AAM with Hogwood, there was still a clear relationship with the playing of modern instrument versions, but with Manze there is a far greater contrast of style. Here the musical line has less of the spring like quality I associate with Mozart and the inheritance from the baroque violin concertos is much clearer than usual. Of course the solo violin part is less obviously virtuosic and flamboyant than many baroque concerti but the connection is more explicit here than in other performances which typically emphasize our post-classical view of Mozart.

However, this disc rewards repeated hearing and I have enjoyed its different and, I believe, more accurate approach to the style in which these concerti were played in their time. The playing is generally of high quality and there are some beautiful moments, but on occasions I would have liked a little more pointing of the rhythms, and Manzeís violin sound was, on rare occasions, slightly overstrained in some of the very slow passages.

The sound is very detailed, immediate and close, I think a little too immediate; like one or two other recent Harmonia Mundi SACD releases, the sound was, to my ears, a shade over bright, resulting in a trace of hardness, particularly with the solo violin sound. The solo violin was sometimes also a little too highlighted from the orchestra, giving a slightly unnatural image. These criticisms are small and apply to the multi-channel layer and are comparing against the very best that SACD recordings can offer. I have listened to only a section of the disc in stereo, when the above flaws seemed much less noticeable, but then the flatter image resolved significantly less detail than the multi-channel image.

Annoyingly the notes have been glued into the cardboard and plastic case, rather than being left loose. This has been common on a number of Harmonia Mundiís latest releases; it makes reading the notes cumbersome.

This disc has been illuminating and I expect to enjoy the performances further. If the other concertos are released to complete the set, I will buy them but they will not be a compulsory and immediate purchase.

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Works: 3  

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219 "Turkish"