Mozart Violin Concertos

The importance of the violin to the young Mozart stemmed from his father, Leopold, a teacher and author of Violinschule, one of the eighteenth century’s most influential treatises on violin technique. Written only two months apart, these concertos focus less on technical brilliance (though they are demanding enough) and more on a warm and expressive lyricism combined with sprightly humour and violinistic athleticism.

Producer: Andrew Cornall
Engineering, editing, mixing & mastering: Jonathan Stokes & Neil Hutchinson for Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded: Live in DSD 128fs on 18 December 2016 (No 4) & 14 May 2017 (No 5) at the Barbican Hall, London

Although the prevailing image of Mozart the performer is that of a pianist, the part played by the violin in his early development as a musician was hardly less important, largely on account of his father’s influence. Accounts of the child-prodigy’s triumphs all around Europe suggest that, at that stage at least, he was equally proficient on violin and keyboard. But, it was in Salzburg – where violin concerto movements were as likely to be heard as outdoor evening entertainment music or as an embellishment to a church service as in a concert hall – that Mozart first played a concerto at the age of seven, later toiled in the court orchestra, and, between 1773 and 1775, composed his five violin concertos. Their emphasis is not on technical brilliance, but rather on lyricism, and an eloquent personal expressiveness, now recognised as unique to Mozart, but which at the time marked a new stage in his artistic development.

His Fourth Violin Concerto is dated to October 1775, following swiftly after his well-known Third. It is less dreamy than its immediate predecessor, being both bolder and leaner. Whereas the Third cultivated a dialogue between the soloist and the accompanying orchestra, the Fourth allows the violin to indulge in a more continuous flow of melody. Only two months later, he completed his Fifth and final Violin Concerto. Whilst being the most technically demanding of the five, it combines radiant warmth with violinistic athleticism.

Both concertos share elements of humorous impersonation – the Fourth includes episodes where the violin performs bagpipe-like drone effects, and the Fifth’s last movement delivers an excursion into ‘Turkish-style’ music – exaggerated melodic leaps, pounding rhythms, and col legno effects (hitting the strings with the wood of the bow). The fact that this style might have owed more to Hungarian gypsy music than to the Ottomans would not have mattered to contemporary listeners – for most Europeans of that time, the music’s exoticism would have seemed ‘Turkish’ enough.

Nikolaj Znaider, directing from his ‘Kreisler’ Guarnerius ‘del Gesu’ 1741 violin, in his first recording for the LSO’s own label, delivers performances of sprightly virtuosity. Speaking of his admiration for these works, Znaider said, “For me Mozart is the greatest composer, because he was able to express in only twenty-five minutes everything that Mahler was able to express in one hour and twenty minutes, and that Wagner could do in five hours. He could express the yearning and the desire and the pain of human existence, and yet it felt so easy.”

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