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SACD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

  • Violin Concerto #3
  • Violin Concerto #4
  • Violin Concerto #5
Arabella Steinbacher, violin
Festival Strings Lucerne/Daniel Dodds
PentaTone SACD PTC5186479 78:10 Hybrid Multichannel
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The three concertos here are as popular and oft-recorded as any in the Classical period repertoire. They are also deceptively difficult and require a surprising amount of skill and even maturity to work well. None other than Heifetz listed these works as some of the most challenging he ever played in his career. This new recording harks back to an earlier age of Mozart playing, with a near Romantic sense of tempo and expression. Steinbacher has appreciably waited to record these works, making her name with some unusually adventurous repertoire. While not a perfect disc, this album admirably showcases her talents.

First, the good news. Arabella Steinbacher is a fabulous fiddler. She attacks these youthful works with the necessary gusto and virtuosity. She also avoids milking the tunes the way some famous players are inclined to. Indeed, this is intelligent music-making, full of character and an obvious passion for the works at hand. I am personally refreshed by the somewhat old-fashioned style of playing (and Romantic cadenza choices), although not every critic and listener will feel that way. This approach new turns overly heavy, but also refuses to be a slave to modern trends. The Lucerne forces play with alacrity and clarity, aided by some terrific sound from PentaTone.

The bad news is largely a matter of personal taste. As fine as she is, I sometimes feel that the violinists' tone thins a touch in the upper register, robbing slow movements of some of their beauty, And while the strings and winds under Dodds are enthusiastic and warmly captured, I wouldn't have minded surer intonation and a fuller sound. But even reference versions of these works have the same complaints and more. All and all, a very fine release.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman