Philippe Graffin / Nobuko Imai

Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante; Duos for Violin & Viola; etc.

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Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante; Duos for Violin & Viola; etc. Review

by James Manheim

This collection of Mozart's violin and viola music is rather oddly presented: the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216, and two shorter works for violin and orchestra receive conventional program notes, but the central works on the album, the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra, and the two duos for violin and viola on disc two, are described in a fictional work, a short-short story called "Too Much Mozart" by British novelist and music writer Jessica Duchen. The device is rather mystifying, and the same might be said of the general interpretations by violinist and conductor Philippe Graffin. Dedicated to extracting the significance of small details, they tend lose both the limpid charm of the violin concerto and the glorious spaciouness of the Sinfonia Concertante. Without any explanation, the blank tonic-dominant figure with which the orchestra accompanies the entrance of the soloists in the first movement of the Sinfonia Concertante is altered rhythmically; the plain figure is, in its small way, essential in forcing the listener's attention to the larger proportions of the movement. It's the same way throughout the first disc; many passages are treated in innovative ways, but a clarity that's characteristic of Mozart is lost. The issues are not technical ones, and in the concentrated dialogues of the violin-viola duos on disc two, among Mozart's less-often-performed pieces, Graffin and violist Nobuko Imai achieve a tense focus that properly links these works to Mozart's string quartets. Holland's Brabant Philharmonic Orchestra reacts with admirable sensitivity to the unusual readings asked of it; both the program as a whole, with the youthful violin works serving as curtain raisers, is well thought out; Avie's sound is warm and transparent. The only question for listeners will be whether they find themselves drawn into the story being told here.

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