Mozart Complete Wind Concerto on Period Instruments

The American Classical Orchestra recorded the complete Mozart Wind Concerti using the orchestra's principals as soloists. These recordings mark the first comprehensive survey of the concerti by an American period instrument ensemble and conductor. Research into various sources has produced some unique material and instruments for use in these recordings. The American Classical Orchestra was founded by music director Thomas Crawford in 1985 as the Orchestra of the Old Fairfield Academy. It performs on authentic instruments, specializing in repertoire from the 17th to 19th centuries. Interested in reviving and preserving the art of playing period instruments, the American Classical Orchestra also fosters the education of musicians and the public in authentic performance technique. It is comprised of leading period instrumentalists in the New York metropolitan region.


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Formed from leading period instrument performers in the New York metropolitan area this is a highly regarded orchestra, and positive commentary on these concerto recordings reflects the excellent quality which you can expect throughout this usefully packaged set. All but one of the wind soloists are members of the orchestra, and very good they are too.
This is a period instrument orchestra, so the sound is accordingly fairly gentle, though by no means hair-shirt. The sound is nicely rounded, almost sumptuous at times, and by no means cold. All of the orchestral instruments are listed at the back of the booklet, with makers’ names both modern and ancient, the modern instruments being replicas of early examples.
Far from saving the best until last, CD 1 of this set has some of the finest performances here, and the warm tones of Hoeprich’s basset horn or basset clarinet make for a lovely opening. The Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 is one of Mozart’s late masterpieces and is given a supremely sensitive performance on this recording. The basset horn has a lower range than a conventional clarinet, and the version here uses fairly recently discovered historical references to create as accurate as possible a reproduction of Stadler’s solo, right down to the creation of a new instrument replicating that shown in an engraving from a concert programme from 1794. The extra low sonorities do indeed make for an extra layer of richness which can be quite unexpected. Either way, it is a recording to cherish as well as one to put alongside old favourites for comparison.
From last to first, the Bassoon Concerto in B flat major K191 was Mozart’s first wind concerto, and despite inhabiting the gallant style of composers senior to Mozart the work is ambitious and technically demanding to soloists even today. Denis Godburn’s instrument has a soft and rounded tone whose warmth is both attractive and distinctive, and the recording is mercifully free of key rattle. Oboe soloist, Marc Schachman, wrote the booklet notes for this first disc, and he goes into some detail on the origins of the Oboe Concerto in C major K314, which we also hear on disc 2 in a version for flute. Historical mystery and obscurity aside, this is yet another excellent performance. The period oboe has a slightly broader, less sinewy resonance than the modern instrument, and this milder tone again makes for an attractive listen.
CD 2 is given over entirely to the flute concertos, of which the Flute Concerto in G major, K313 is arguably the finest. Sandra Miller plays a traverso flute from the period, which has a tone more akin to a recorder than the modern power-flutes we hear in orchestras these days. Unlike a recorder however, the horizontal blowing hole allows for greater flexibility of dynamics, colour and tuning, and Miller’s nicely centred tone rings out over the orchestra with fine projection and excellent intonation, making one wonder why Mozart had such an apparent loathing for the things. The Adagio non troppo central movement is a particular treat, the solo line topping the string texture while also being enveloped in it in a friendly meeting of musical lines and textures. As previously mentioned, the Flute Concerto in D major K314 is a fairly straight transposition of the Oboe Concerto in C major, if anything being given even more lightness and bounce in the flute version of the opening Allegro aperto. Once again the soloists are beautifully balanced in the recording, and well matched even though there are no surviving usable pedal harps from Mozart’s time. The instrument used here must come close to what he would have expected to hear, with a marvellous transparency and gentle articulation and resonance played with fine musicality by Victoria Drake.
CD 3 covers pretty much all of Mozart’s surviving work for horn and orchestra. As far as absolute completeness goes we only appear to be missing the fragment left of a Horn Concerto K494a, and for that matter the Andante for flute and orchestra K315, but this is of little importance. What we do have are some useful notes by Robert D. Levin, which explains which works were written for whom, and how the score of K370b came to be re-united with itself after having been cut into pieces by Mozart’s son, Carl. The final track on the CD is the original conception of the Rondo K412, with the addition of faux-operatic vocalisations by Eric Dillner, expounding Mozart’s ‘sardonic dialogue’ as directed at Leutgeb, annotated throughout the score. This bit of fun is of little more than novelty value, and thank goodness the text is given with translation in the booklet.
With technical assuredness and musical sensitivity from a fine set of period music specialist soloists this has to be pretty much the top of the heap when it comes to an authentic/historically informed collection of Mozart’s complete wind concertos. With plenty of scholarly work invested in the preparation of all of these performances there is always plenty of fascination in hearing what must be close to what Mozart’s audiences should have heard at the time.
Dominy Clements, Music Web.

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