Mozart: Concerto for Violin no 1 in B flat major, K 207; Concerto for Violin no 2 in D major, K 211; Concerto for Violin no 3 in G major, K 216; Concerto for Violin no 4 in D major, K 218; Concerto for Violin no 5 in A major, K 219 "Turkish"; Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola in E flat major, K 364 (320d)
Gramophone Award Finalist - Concerto 2009
Uberto Martinelli’s interview with Giuliano Carmignola, printed in the booklet, reveals that Claudio Abbado, having played Mozart’s Fourth Concerto (as well as Tchaikovsky’s) three decades earlier with Carmignola, called him again to explore the collaboration that has resulted in this release, in which Abbado and a young period-instrument ensemble accompany Carmignola in performances that Carmignola describes as brisk and operatic. He mentions their attention to detail and “micro-phrasing”; in fact, sharp articulation and aggressive dynamic contrast may be the aspects of these performances that impress themselves most forcibly on listeners in the opening movement of the First Concerto. He also notes his reduced dependence on vibrato (and that of the orchestra); and the resulting transparency imparts a brighter and edgier quality to the sound he produces on the 1732 Baillot Stradivari and allows the woodwind sonorities to pierce the blanket of string sound with special aggressiveness. That doesn’t mean that Carmignola can’t achieve a highly nuanced reading, as in the slow movement of the First Concerto; but he makes his highly personal observations on Mozart’s multifaceted writing by bringing the right arm more fully and more flexibly into service. In the finale, the rocketing 16th notes really do seem quicker than they do even in “breathlessly delicate” performances by, say, Anne-Sophie Mutter (with the London Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon 474 2152, 29:5). But such passages here sound witty rather than simply hurried—and, of course, the speed enhances the music’s virtuosic impression. Carmignola mentions Grumiaux’s and Gulli’s performances as his principal influences, and he plays Gulli’s cadenzas, except in those cases (the Fourth Concerto and the Sinfonia concertante) in which he borrows what Mozart himself had provided. Gulli’s cadenzas seem to have been compounded from Locatelli’s capriccios and Mozart’s thematic materials; they fit well into these vigorous performances.
In the Second Concerto, Carmignola’s detailed phrasing reveals a wealth of nuance that lifts the work above the status of a mere harbinger of things to come (in Mozart’s case, very soon, in the last three concertos). Once again, the slow movement focuses Carmignola’s wide-ranging musical ideas and fuses them with Mozart’s, producing results many may find startling in their revelatory power. The Third Concerto brings more of these moments. The first movement’s recitative-like passages, for example, emerge as strikingly conversational (Carmignola mentions Mozart’s operatic style as influential) and passages in the third movement that might have sounded relatively straightforward even in performances by so rhetorical a violinist as Stern, take on shiny new meanings when played with Carmignola’s subtly variegated bow strokes. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Fourth Concerto lies in how expressive the slow movement remains when Carmignola and Abbado play it at an unusually rapid tempo: Bach comes off well played on kazoos, and Mozart’s music appears here to have similar durability, a point that hardly requires for its effectiveness that kazoos and Abbado’s tempos be quite comparable. Carmignola also takes full advantage of the opportunity presented by the brief cadenza-like passage that leads from the unexpected slow entry of the violin in the Fifth Concerto into the main body of the movement. And it’s surprising how much a quicker tempo and some seemingly improvised graces can add to a slow movement already celebrated for its pristine purity or how much room for excitement Mozart left in the finale’s “Turkish” episode.
Individual though Carmignola’s performances may be, he seems to meld easily with violist Danusha Waskiewicz, who shares his exuberant view of Mozart in the Sinfonia concertante—and with Abbado, too, whose orchestra holds the stage briefly, as it does in the concertos, in fleeting but memorable concertante moments for the woodwinds. The performances in the slow movement feature dialogue worth listening to attentively, even through what sounds like heavy breathing (an accompaniment that not every listener in a concert hall can hear and about which some listeners in their studies may feel somewhat—or more—ambivalent).
Archiv’s engineers give the orchestra and soloists plenty of room for their dynamic contrasts and convey a great deal of the detail of these microcosms. A review several generations ago referred to Szymon Goldberg’s manner of playing Mozart as “walking on eggs.” By comparison, Carmignola’s and Abbado’s manner in our high-tech era might be characterized as “tripping on tachyons.” But, whatever the level of detail, overall they’ve given riveting performances that stand at some distance from the mainstream, even from the mainstream as broadened by period practice and sonorities. Whether these at times almost impudent (though never disrespectful) readings will appeal to general listeners as strongly as they might to those who’ve already swum repeatedly in that mainstream may be debatable, but that shouldn’t deter any listener of any—or no persuasion—from acquiring them. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham