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LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos 3, 4 & 5
WORKS: Violin Concertos Nos 3, 4 & 5
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Festival Strings Lucerne/Daniel Dodds
CATALOGUE NO: PTC5186479 (hybrid CD/SACD)


For playing sensitive to the Classical style on an appropriate scale using modern instruments, Arthur Grumiaux and Henryk Szeryng (both Philips) are still among the front-runners for a complete set of Mozart’s Violin Concertos. For the three large-scale concertos on a single disc, Arabella Steinbacher’s main competition comes from Augustin Dumay (DG), whose vibrantly spontaneous, beautifully phrased readings radiate a sublime sense of joy and contentment.

Recorded in the gently cushioning, warm ambience of a Zurich church, Steinbacher and colleagues – Daniels Dodds directs the Lucerne orchestra from the leader’s chair – sound almost like a throwback to the 1970s. Indeed these are delightful performances, whose post-Romantic credentials are confirmed by embracing mainstream cadenzas by Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Joseph Joachim. The muted violins of No. 3’s heavenly slow movement sound as though they are floating on currents of warm air, and as Steinbacher soars aloft with her first entry, it is as if time has momentarily been suspended. The deliciously ‘noisy’ Turkish episode of No. 5’s finale is also affectionately shaped rather than manically driven in the ‘authentic’ style.

In contrast to the robust projection of Itzhak Perlman (DG), Pinchas Zukerman (Sony) or Anne-Sophie Mutter (DG), Steinbacher plays these enchanting scores with a refined elegance, interpretative warmth and captivating, jewelled sonority reminiscent of the great Josef Suk. Period instrument enthusiasts might argue that Andrew Manze’s exhilarating rethinks for Harmonia Mundi bring us closer to the kind of thing Mozart originally intended, but for playing that retains a strong sense of contact with the 20th century’s golden age, Steinbacher has few serious contemporary rivals.


Julian Haylock