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Mozart - Complete Wind Concertos
on period instruments

Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 Eric Hoeprich (basset clarinet)
Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K191 Dennis Godburn
Oboe Concerto In C major, K314 Marc Schachman
Flute Concerto Nos. 1 in G major, K313 & 2 in D major, K314 Sandra Miller
Harp Concerto in C major, K299 Victoria Drake (harp) & Sandra Miller (flute) Fragment in E flat major & Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4 (complete) R. J. Kelly (horn)

American Classical Orchestra/Thomas Crawford

Nimbus: NI2568/70CD - 3 discs

One perception of the concerto genre suggests that the soloist is pitted against an orchestra with the discourse of the work forwards and back between these two entities. Mozart’s music is much more akin to the operatic stage, presenting a range of stories and interplay between characters as each movement unfolds. Members of the ensemble have an opportunity to develop their roles much more with ample opportunity for dialogue and debate.

This is often the approach of period instrument ensembles which deploy much smaller forces and which see the concerto repertoire as an extension of chamber music more than anything else.

It is curious that period instrument orchestras often err (as on this disc) towards instruments in common use well after the death of the composer in question. Instruments from 1810 (as cited in the orchestra list) suitable for a Beethoven Symphonic concert evoke settings rather different from the situations in which Mozart’s concertos were first performed. Certainly, instruments from 1810 have far more potential for projection than the intimate settings of Mozart’s experience and one must recognise that this represents the music in a rather different light than that the composer would have known, and in various ways. For instance, less frequent use of forked fingerings on woodwind instruments of 1810, compared to those in use in Mozart’s lifetime, impacts subtly but significantly on the tonal shape and melodic contours of the work.

That said, using exclusively instruments of Mozart’s time is perhaps a counsel of perfection and this reissue of Mozart’s complete wind concertos (originally released between 1996 and 1998) offers a snapshot of wind instrument technology and performance practice that was then at the forefront of the discipline.

Nowadays we have greater choice of technologies, makers and performance styles among which to choose. And if these performances do not quite embrace the chamber-music intimacy hinted at above, then it is certainly good practice to spotlight the American Classical Orchestra as performers of these concertos in preference to flying in high-profile, but outsider soloists. For one thing, this is much closer to the practice of the time.

In his performances of the horn concertos, R J Kelley’s sound is even and smooth, with just enough clarity to allow melodic shapes to unfold. He demonstrates excellent technical precision in the first movement of K.417, and the finale of this concerto evinces sprightly playing quickly matched by the orchestra members. In the D major concerto, K.412 we have an interesting piece of theatre, with Mozart’s comments (written into the autograph) declaimed in the background during the solo episodes. A curious touch: but does this add something or take something away?

With the Flute Concertos - for instance, the first movement of K.313 -  the orchestral sound is immediately more assured, with fuller textures and a more satisfying blend between winds and strings. Sandra Miller, playing a copy of a Heinrich Grenser flute from 1790, offers a beautifully rich tone. Every phrase is purposeful and her crisp rhythmic figures encourage a vibrant response from orchestral strings in particular. The cadenza – her own –pushes the boundaries without losing any of the grace of the work or its musical shape. Miller uses the harmonic deviations always to her best advantage in telling her musical story and her playing is vocal in the best sense of the word; truly compelling.  This is a performance to be enjoyed over and over again.

Thomas Crawford draws out much fine orchestral wind playing in the clarinet concerto, though the violins could have stronger coherence. Eric Hoepric ‘s expressive and characterful sound comes from an instrument he built himself. It was made following the discovery of a drawing of Stadler’s own instrument uncovered in 1993. The individual tone colour of the notes (particularly in chromatic passages) is evident and Hoeprich embraces this with careful understanding. His ornamentation gives this performance a personal feel, distinctive, reacting with and through the music.

Dennis Godburn’s account of the Bassoon concerto is notable for the wonderful central aria movement in which he challenges his colleagues to new heights of expression. Athletic potential lets fly in the final movement where the bassoon seems to acquire both arms and legs in the gymnastic display.

The oboe concerto immediately raises a smile as Marc Schachman embarks on truly joyful playing; he is particularly radiant during lyrical passages. A more extended cadenza is offered here in the 1st movement giving listeners yet another view on improvising within the context of classical repertoires.

Looking at the concertos as a whole, I felt that the strings of the American Classical Orchestra could learn a great deal from their wind colleagues. The similarities between Mozart’s concertos and his operas, with character built into each line and phrase, is clear and the thematic material would be equally at home sung by a voice as it is played on the instruments represented on the American Classical Orchestra's discs. It is a pity that there is not a greater sense of theatricality from the strings, but there is no lack of it from the soloists!

Jane Booth