Richard Tognetti / Australian Chamber Orchestra

Mozart: Violin Concertos 3 & 5; Sinfonia Concertante

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The Australian Chamber Orchestra and its enterprising leader, violinist Richard Tognetti, wade with these popular Mozart works into a field with plenty of competition, and the results, as usual with this popular group, range from good to superb. The performances are generally oriented toward historical practice; the string players use gut strings, tuned slightly below modern concert pitch, and the oboes and horns are historically appropriate instruments. In general matters of attack and phrasing, the players do not diverge too far from modern practice, and Tognetti, in his own notes (in English, German, and French), points out that even if treatises of the period laid down certain procedures in regard to these matters, the notoriously capricious Mozart might well have done something completely different. The two violin concertos receive expansive-seeming performances in which each phrase is well-detailed and the sequence of events in each movement feels as though it's unfolding on an operatic stage. Hear the first entrance of the violin in the opening movement of the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, with its attention-grabbing, vibrato-free opening. Tognetti avoids French lightness and sweetness in these pieces in favor a broader melodic quality. There's nothing too daring in the violin concertos, except for some unusual shifts in tempo in some of the contrasting rondo episodes, but the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra in E flat major, K. 364, played with violist Christopher Moore, steps a bit farther out onto the edge and balances there exquisitely. Tognetti takes the players through some unusual phrasing decisions, inserting chunks of legato into the main exposition material and then manipulating these chunks in the solo sections. It's a very exciting and satisfying performance throughout, and the hybrid super audio sound engineers from Sweden's BIS label, working at the orchestra's own ACO studio in Sydney, deliver extraordinary transparency. (The album was auditioned on a good conventional stereo.) A standout Mozart release.

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