Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E flat, K364; Concerto for violin & piano, K Anh. 56 (reconstr. Wilby)

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Sinfonia concertante in E flat, K364; Concerto for violin & piano, K Anh. 56 (reconstr. Wilby)
PERFORMER: Midori (violin), Nobuko Imai (viola); NDR SO/Christoph Eschenbach (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 89488
Of all the reconstructions prompted by the 1991 Mozart jamboree, Philip Wilby’s recreation of the Violin and Piano Concerto of 1778 was the most worthwhile. Wilby skilfully completed the 120-bar fragment of the first movement and took the slow movement and finale from the unusually brilliant, ‘public’ D major Violin Sonata, K306. There are problems – not least of dates – with Wilby’s thesis that the Sonata is the ‘last resting-place’ of the projected double concerto. But the three movements certainly make a satisfying entity. Midori and Eschenbach give an immensely polished reading, phrasing with unfailing subtlety and sophistication. Too much sophistication, you might say, in the Andantino cantabile, which here emerges as a languorous, perfumed Adagio. The 1989 Philips recording with Iona Brown and Howard Shelley (available on a four-disc set) sounds fresher and more naturally flowing – the Andantino clocks in at 6:43, against 8:32 on this new version. I also prefer the crisper, more transparent orchestral sonority on the Philips disc and its less upfront balancing of the soloists vis à vis the orchestra.

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In the violin and viola Sinfonia concertante there are similar contrasts between Midori/Imai and Imai with Iona Brown in the same Philips set. Midori’s playing is undeniably masterly, and by using the scordatura tuning prescribed by Mozart, Imai now conjures a richer, throatier timbre from her viola. If your taste is for a powerful, Romantically moulded reading, then this could be for you. For me, though, Midori (Imai’s instincts are rather more Classical) can over-cosset the music, especially in the slow movement, while in the finale her spitfire brilliance can shade into aggression. Brown’s performance may have less glamour; but hers and Imai’s pure, eloquent, slightly reticent reading comes closer to the heart of this sublime work. Richard Wigmore