Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Concerto for Flute & Harp

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Two of the three performances on this disc are barely tolerable, but the third is worth the wait. Mozart's Concerto for flute and harp and the Concerto for oboe are serviceably played by the soloists -- flutist Robert Wolf, harpist Naoko Yoshino, and oboist Hans-Peter Westermann -- but poorly played by the Concentus Musicus Wien, which scraps and saws its way through the parts with amazing insensitivity to the music's ineffable elegance and charm. Nor is the Viennese early music ensemble helped by Nikolaus Harnoncourt's inattentive conducting, which minimizes expressivity and flattens dynamics so that these lovely works sound dull and listless. The hard and glassy digital sound of the 1999 recordings made in the harsh acoustics of Vienna's Casino Zögernitz present the performances in a flattering aural light.

Yet the performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto that closes the disc is so fine that it nearly saves the entire disc. Performing on a basset clarinet, Wolfgang Meyer has a rich, smooth tone and an agile, graceful technique perfectly suited to the music's style. Nikolaus Harnoncourt here seems fully aware of the work's felicities and he coaxes a performance of elegance and beauty out of the Concentus musicus Wien. Even the sound recorded in 1998 in Vienna's Musikverein is clearer and warmer. Thus, this disc is one-third highly recommendable, two-thirds utterly ignorable.

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