There are two 2CD sets of the complete Mozart violin concertos this month, one of which is simply unique.

01 Mozarts ViolinOn Mozart’s Violin: The Complete Violin Concertos violinist Christoph Koncz and Les Musiciens du Louvre, one of Europe’s leading period-instrument ensembles perform the concertos with Koncz – astonishingly – playing Mozart’s own violin (Sony Classical G010004353645E

The violin, made in the early 1700s by Klotz of Mittenwald after a Jacob Steiner model, was played by Mozart while he was concertmaster in the Salzburg Hofkapelle from 1769. It was entrusted to his sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) when he moved to Vienna in 1781. The concertos date from 1773-75, so would have been played on this instrument; indeed, Koncz makes a strong case for the violin’s particular sound clearly influencing the compositions. The instrument passed through various owners – all listed in the booklet notes – before being acquired by the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation in 1955. Remarkably, it has retained its original Baroque form, and not suffered any alterations.

Koncz clearly understood and appreciated the remarkable privilege accorded him by this recording project, and he responded with absolutely faultless performances. The violin has a sweet, clear sound, and Koncz plays it beautifully, with a tasteful use of vibrato and with warmth and feeling. Mozart left no cadenzas – these would have been improvised at the time – and Koncz supplies his own, after studying the extant cadenzas for the piano concertos and immersing himself in the style of Mozart’s Salzburg years. Les Musiciens du Louvre, the first ensemble to perform Mozart on period instruments at the Salzburg Festival, provides the perfect accompaniment.

It’s not simply the emotional and personal impact of the instrument that makes this set so special; the performances themselves, recorded in the Salzburg Mozarteum, are technically and musically superb in what is a quite stunning release.

If I could own only one set of the Mozart violin concertos, this would be it.

02 Mozart Baiba SkrideNormally, any release by the outstanding Latvian violinist Baiba Skride would likely be topping my list, but this time her Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.1-5 with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Eivind Aadland (also included are the Adagio in E Major K261 and the two Rondos in B-flat K269 and C Major K373) (Orfeo C997201 is up against the Koncz set.

Skride draws a beautiful sound from the Yfrah Neaman Stradivarius violin that she plays on extended loan, with a clear tone and an effortless grace and warmth. Like Koncz, Skride performs her own cadenzas to great effect. 

There’s never a hint of an issue with Skride’s playing in beautifully judged and finely nuanced modern-instrument performances, but while there’s elegance and depth in the orchestral playing, their recorded sound seems less than ideal; they seem set fairly far back with a particularly over-heavy bass line that often muddies the texture.

03 Wan Richard Hamelin BeethovenThe ongoing Analekta series of the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas with violinist Andrew Wan and pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin continues with the second volume, this time featuring the three Op.12 Sonatas – No.1 in D Major, No.2 in A Major and No.3 in E-flat Major – and the “Spring” Sonata, No.5 in F Major Op.24 (AN 2 8795 Volume One was reviewed here in December 2018.

The Op.12 sonatas from 1797/98 were the first to be written and show the two instruments on an equal footing despite the customary “piano and violin” designation. They are joyful works – only one movement is in a minor key – and, while formally conventional, are imaginative and bright in texture. A pure delight from start to finish, the performances here are of the same high standard as on the earlier volume of a series that continues to impress.

04 Beethoven Dover QuartetThe Dover Quartet swept the board at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the first prize announcement noting that they “consistently demonstrated an exceptional level of maturity, poise and artistry.” Add five or six years of performance experience to that judgement and you will have a good idea of the exceptionally high standard of their new release (2CDs priced as a single) Beethoven Complete String Quartets Volume 1 The Opus 18 Quartets (Cedille CDR 90000 198

The Dover Quartet has performed the complete Beethoven quartet cycle in recital several times, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival performances being reviewed as a “musically transformative” event. The players have waited until they felt completely comfortable with their interpretations before committing them to disc, the recordings here being made in late 2018 and late 2019.

Although influenced by Haydn and Mozart, the Op.18 quartets show Beethoven clearly moving forward on his own path. The Dover members refer to them as playful and conversational and full of dramatic contrasts of mood and character, qualities which all shine through in performances of conviction and depth. This promises to be an outstanding set.

05 Nathan MeltzerThere’s a fascinating story behind Nathan Meltzer: To Roman Totenberg, the debut CD by the 20-year-old Austrian violinist, who has studied at Juilliard since he was 13, and pianist Rohan De Silva (Champs Hill Records CHRCD161 Totenberg’s 1734 Ames Stradivarius violin was stolen after his 1980 recital at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was not recovered until 2015, three years after Totenberg’s death at 101. Professionally restored and consequently sold by Totenberg’s daughters, the violin has been on loan to Meltzer since October 2018.

All the music on this CD was performed by Meltzer at a “Homecoming” concert at that same Longy School in November 2019, with Totenberg’s three daughters present. The pieces were all favourites of Totenberg, who recorded two of them – the Franck and the Bartók – on this very violin. It’s certainly a glorious instrument. Meltzer describes it as dark and resonant with a warm tone in every register, but there’s also a real brilliance in the high register.

Ably supported by De Silva, Meltzer is quite superb in a program that includes Bach’s violin and keyboard Sonata No.3 in E Major BWV1016, Franck’s Sonata in A Major, Szymanowski’s La Fontaine d’Arethuse from his Mythes Op.30, Bartók’s Rhapsody No.1 and Wieniawski’s Polonaise de Concert in D Major Op.4.

It’s an outstanding debut recording from a prodigiously talented player with an admirable sense of history.

06 Schumann SchubertFragment, the new Schumann Quartet CD of music by Franz Schubert, is part of their return to regular activity after the coronavirus hiatus, the ensemble having already played several concerts in July and August (Berlin Classics 030141OBC

The three quartets here were chosen to show how Schubert evolved over the years, with failure a part of that development. The String Quartet No.6 D74 from 1813, when Schubert was just 16, shows a composer trying to find his own style. What was intended to become the String Quartet No.2 in C Minor in 1820 was apparently abandoned and is now known as the Quartettsatz D703, an Allegro assai first movement followed by an Andante fragment in which the first violin simply fades away after 40 bars. It is included here, giving the CD its title, and the final notes and ensuing silence seem to lead perfectly into the start of the String Quartet No.13 D804, the “Rosamunde,” a large-scale work that reflected Schubert’s approach to the symphony by way of chamber music.

Performances throughout are quite superb, with a lovely balance that allows all voices to be clearly heard, outstanding ensemble work, terrific dynamics and an obvious emotional connection with the music.

In 1938 the Austrian composer Eric Zeisl (1905-59) fled Vienna for Paris, where he was befriended by Darius Milhaud. Milhaud helped Zeisl’s family move to Paris and subsequently to Los Angeles in 1939, Milhaud himself following to Oakland, California in 1940. The two remained close friends.

07 Paris Los AngelesThe French violinist Ambroise Aubrun discovered Zeisl’s music during his doctoral research at the University of California in Los Angeles, and his new album Paris <> Los Angeles with pianist Steven Vanhauwaert depicts the composers’ friendship as well as revisiting a Mozart sonata that apparently fascinated Zeisl (Editions Hortus 189

Two short pieces by Zeisl open and close the disc: Menuchim’s Song (1939) from the incomplete opera Job and the world-premiere recording of the lyrical Zigeunerweise, the first movement from the unpublished 1919 Suite for Violin and Piano Op.2 that Aubrun discovered in the Zeisl Collection at the university. The other Zeisl work is his substantial three-movement Brandeis Sonata from 1949, named for the California Institute where Zeisl was composer-in-residence.

Milhaud is represented by his four-movement Violin Sonata No.2 from 1917, a quite lovely work. The Mozart is the Violin Sonata No.21 in E Minor K304. Written in 1778 during the Paris visit that saw the death of his mother, it is his only minor key violin sonata as well as his only instrumental work in that key.

There’s excellent playing throughout a terrific CD, with the Mozart in particular a beautifully judged reading – clean and nuanced, with a finely balanced emotional sensitivity.

Listen to 'Paris <> Los Angeles' Now in the Listening Room

08 Rivka Romance webViola Romance is the new 2CD set from violist Rivka Golani, accompanied by pianist Zsuzsa Kollár. It’s a collection of 35 transcriptions of works originally for violin and piano, mostly arranged and revised for viola and piano by Golani (Hungaroton 32811-12

Fritz Kreisler and Edward Elgar dominate CD1, with nine Kreisler originals and four Kreisler arrangements of single pieces by Chaminade, Granados, Tchaikovsky and Gluck. Eight Elgar tracks complete the disc.

Kreisler’s presence is also felt on CD2 with six arrangements: five pieces by Dvořák to open and Eduard Gärtner’s Aus Wien as the final track. In between are three pieces by František Drdla, two Brahms/Joachim Hungarian Dances, Jenö Hubay’s Bolero and two Leopold Auer transcriptions of works by Robert Schumann.

The Kreisler influence is no accident, the interpretations here having been inspired by Golani’s collaboration with Kreisler’s longtime accompanist Franz Rupp, who died in 1992; his final performance was with Golani in 1985.

Most of these short pieces (27 are under four minutes) are well-suited to the darker tone of the viola, although Golani’s generally wide and fairly slow vibrato tends to reduce the warmth at times. Still, as you would expect, there’s much fine playing here.

Listen to 'Viola Romance' Now in the Listening Room

09 Glass HouriThe New York-based Irish violinist Gregory Harrington founded the Estile Records label in 2006 (, and has built a reputation for successfully transforming movie scores, jazz, rock and pop music into brand new violin concert pieces. His new CD Glass Hour with the Janáček Philharmonic under Mark Shapiro features music by Philip Glass, including the world-premiere recording of Harrington’s The Hours Suite, his own attractive arrangement of music from the 2002 Oscar-nominated Glass score for the movie The Hours. The three movements – Morning Passages, The Poet Acts and The Hours – were respectively tracks 2, 1 and 14 on the soundtrack album, and as the timings are almost identical they would appear to be straight transcriptions.

Glass’ Violin Concerto No.2 “American Four Seasons, scored for strings and synthesizer, is the other work on the CD. Glass left the four movements untitled, with a solo Prologue and three numbered Songs between the movements acting as violin cadenzas. There’s a lovely feel to the slower sections in particular, although there are one or two moments in the fast perpetual motion passages where the intonation feels a bit insecure.

Listen to 'Glass Hour' Now in the Listening Room

01 Corellis BandCorelli’s Band – Violin Sonatas
Augusta McKay Lodge; Various Artists
Naxos 8.574239 (

The accomplished young Baroque violinist Augusta McKay Lodge brings her considerable musical elegance and strong personality to bear in this fascinating program of early 18th-century sonatas for violin and continuo. We hear three sonatas by Giovanni Mossi and two by Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli. Both Mossi and Carbonelli were students and/or followers of Arcangelo Corelli and indeed their works owe much to the great master, both in content and structure. The lone Corelli work on the disc is one of his greatest, the Sonata Op.5, No.3 in C Major, and the performance is sensational, a great combination of fire, precision and risk-taking. This is playing of great clarity that brings out the harmonic tension, melodic beauty and rhythmic interest in Corelli’s music.

Of the three Mossi sonatas, the two from his early Op.1 collection from 1716 are a real revelation. They’re technically challenging with a refreshing originality. The later 1733 sonata of his which opens the disc is somewhat more square and uninteresting. While obviously talented, Carbonelli seemed to have dabbled in music, possibly studying with Corelli and having known Vivaldi, who named one of his sonatas – Il Carbonelli – after him. His only published music – before he took up work as a supplier of wine to the English court – was a set of sonatas published in 1729. The two represented here are full of interest and great poignancy. 

 The continuo band is a powerhouse and provides strong support to Lodge, who is clearly emerging as one of the most eloquent and interesting Baroque violinists around.

04 Classical Piano Concerto Cramer webJohann Baptist Cramer – Piano Concertos 1, 3 & 6
Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players
Hyperion CDA68302 (

Apart from his piano Etudes Op.84 – for many years a staple in piano pedagogy – the name Johann Baptist Cramer is not all that well known today. A year after his birth in Mannheim in 1771, his father – himself a renowned violinist and conductor – moved the family to London to take advantage of the thriving musical life there. The move was clearly a fortuitous one, for over the course of his long lifetime, Cramer earned a reputation as a virtuoso soloist, composer and pedagogue. In light of his sizable output, he is definitely a composer worth re-exploring and who better to do it than the London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley both directing and performing three piano concertos on this Hyperion recording, the sixth in the Classical Piano series.

The Concertos No.1 and 3 in in E-flat and D Major respectively, were completed in the 1790s and stylistically straddle the classical and Romantic periods. While both were perhaps written with an eye to demonstrating Cramer’s technical prowess, the musical style is gracious and spirited, further enhanced by Shelley’s technically flawless performance and the LMP’s solid accompaniment.

The Concerto No.6 dates from around 1813. By that time, Beethoven had completed his seventh symphony and Wellington’s Victory. Yet any traces of the new Romantic spirit in this concerto are marginal – clearly Cramer wasn’t about to abandon a means of expression that had successfully served his purpose. Once again, Shelley and the LMP comprise a convivial pairing, particularly in the buoyant Rondo finale which brings the concerto and the disc to a satisfying conclusion.

So a hearty bravo to Howard Shelley and the LMP for once again shedding light on some fine music that might otherwise have been overlooked. As always, we can look forward to further additions to the series.

05 Brahms Widman SchiffJohannes Brahms – Clarinet Sonatas
András Schiff; Jörg Widmann
ECM New Series ECM 2621 (

Few people play the clarinet so well, compose so well and exemplify the title “musician” so well as Jörg Widman. Substitute “piano” for “clarinet,” and leaving aside composition, the same applies to András Schiff. What a fantastic collaboration this recording of Brahms’ Sonatas for Piano and Clarinet Op.120 turns out to be. The subtitle is accurate: the piano is an equal partner, and often the more dominant. Schiff’s articulation and phrasing leave me nodding in wonder and delight. Widman’s mastery throughout is unparalleled. The two have collaborated often enough that it’s like listening in on a conversation between brilliant friends. Brahms couldn’t have asked for a more united and insightful reading. 

They open with Sonata No.2 in E-flat Major, which makes sense if, like me, you prefer Sonata No.1 in F Minor. As wonderful as the performance is, there is nothing that can convince me the second sonata carries as much water as the first, which is more in the composer’s Sturm und Drang manner. They focus, in the first movement of the F Minor, not so much on angst as resigned sadness. The same mood runs into the second movement adagio, taken at the bottom of the range of possible tempi at the outset, nudged gently forward in the middle section, and relaxed back in Schiff’s brief cadenza. 

Widman dedicated his Five Intermezzi to Schiff: solo pieces whose title and content hearken back to Brahms’ late piano pieces. Interposed between the sonatas here, they serve as (mostly) brief enigmas to tease the listener. Think of a clouded mirror. Think of the grumpy ghost of Brahms, still pining, revisiting melancholy.

06 Moszkowski webMoritz Moszkowski – Orchestral Music Volume Two
Sinfonia Varsovia; Ian Hobson
Toccata Classics TOCC 0557 (

Fate was surely unkind to the once-celebrated composer and conductor, Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925): his marriage ended, his teenaged daughter died, avant-garde movements rendered his compositions “old-fashioned” and his considerable fortune disappeared when World War I obliterated his investments. After years of failing health, he died an impoverished recluse in Paris.

Until the recent revival of interest in lesser-known Romantic-era repertoire, all that survived in performance from Moszkowski’s large output were a few short piano pieces that occasionally appeared as recital encores. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that his Deuxième Suite d’Orchestre, Op.47 (1890) is only now receiving its first-ever recording – it’s far too good to have been ignored for so long!

The 41-minute, six-movement work begins with the solemnly beautiful Preludio, in which extended chromatic lyricism builds to a near-Wagnerian climax. The urgent, increasingly furious Fuga and syncopated, rocking Scherzo suggest Mendelssohn on steroids. The long lines of the lovely Larghetto are warmly Romantic, gradually blossoming from tranquil to passionate. The cheerful, graceful Intermezzo leads to the Marcia, a surging blend of Wagner and Elgar that ends the Suite in a proverbial blaze of glory.

Moszkowski’s Troisième Suite d’Orchestre, Op.79 (1908), in four movements lasting 27 minutes, is much lighter and brighter, almost semi-classical in its sunny charm. The robust playing of Sinfonia Varsovia under conductor Ian Hobson adds to this CD’s many pleasures. Here’s winning proof that there’s lots of “good-old-fashioned” music still waiting to be rediscovered and enjoyed!

07 Osorio French webThe French Album
Jorge Federico Osorio
Cedille CDR 90000 197 (

In a promotional video for Cedille Records’ new release, The French Album by Jorge Federico Osorio, the pianist himself suggests that Claude Debussy argued that French music, above all, “must give pleasure.” If these words were taken as marching orders for the great Mexican pianist, then it should be noted that his 2020 album represents a job well done. No doubt, unpacking, and then reassembling, music that spans composers, generations and musical eras (Baroque, Romantic, 20th century) into an expressive and cohesive narrative that moves beyond a simple shared place of origin towards something more profound, is yeoman’s work to be sure, but work which Osorio, a concertizing pianist and faculty member at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, handles with aplomb, care and musicality. It is difficult to imagine what exactly the aesthetic similarities are within the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Emmanuel Chabrier, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, but Osorio manages to connect the repertoire by way of his expressive touch, superior musicality and interpretive mastery. By performing these well-known and hugely popular pieces, such as Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, in its originally intended solo piano context – audiences may be more familiar with the composer’s 1910 orchestral version – Osorio affords listeners an intimate look into the subtle and deliberate compositional motion of this war horse that, perhaps despite accusations of being overplayed, is magnificent in both conception and interpretation here. 

Similarly, French (and European more generally) fascination (exoticization?) with Spanish melodies and rhythms (Chabrier’s Habanera; Debussy’s La Puerta del Vino and La soirée dans Grenade; and Ravel’s Alborado del gracioso), moves here beyond a fetishization of otherness. Osorio achieves a coherent musical statement that places the simple, Romantic, and decidedly French, expressionism of Debussy’s Clair de lune, for example, in conversation with the complexity of those fiery Iberian rhythms, providing a welcome release.

08 LSO Debussy Ravel webDebussy Ravel
London Symphony Orchestra; Francois-Xavier Roth
LSO Live LSO0821D (

A sonic adventure! This impressive new release features three masterworks of French Impressionism by

two of its greatest exponents, Debussy and Ravel, in superb SACD stereo sound using the latest high-density recording technology and conducted by one of today’s most charismatic and enterprising maestros, French conductor Francois-Xavier Roth. He “creates empathetic musicality and flair for colour and such startling touches that the players look stunned” (London Times); “…there’s never anything routine about his approach.” (Gramophone)

Ravel’s Rhapsodie espagnole emerges in pianissimo from total darkness with four descending notes that reoccur in all movements, unifying the work. It then progresses with “cumulative vitality” into sunlight with three dance movements: Malagueña, Habanera and – exploding in fortissimo – the final movement Fiera. To maintain the suspense and gradual crescendo is a real test for the conductor who is showing his lion claws already.

Thanks to I actually watched him conducting the Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune with the London Symphony and was impressed by his emphasis on the individual players’ spontaneity, the wonderful interplay of woodwinds supported by the harps and the horns. The overall arch-shape is very clear: from the meandering, voluptuous solo flute through ever-changing textures into the passionate fortissimo middle part and sinking back into pianissimo as the faun, after being aroused by the elusive nymphs, goes back to slumber.

The real clincher is Debussy’s iconic La mer. Debussy’s immense achievement captures “the majesty and delicacy, fury and stillness, effervescence and power of the sea” and inspires Roth to give an extraordinary performance, careful attention to detail, stunning orchestral effects and an overall epic sweep with a very exciting ending.

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