HAYDN: Sinfonia concertante; MOZART: Oboe Concerto; Bassoon Concerto – Var. performers/Arcangelo/ Jonathan Cohen – Hyperion

HAYDN: Sinfonia concertante in B flat major, Hob I: 105; MOZART: Oboe Concerto in C, K. 314; Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major, K. 191 – Ilya Gringolts, v./ Nicolas Altstaedt, cello/ Alfredo Bernardini, oboe/Peter Whelan, bassoon/ Arcangelo/ Jonathan Cohen – Hyperion CDA68090, 57:44 (6/9/15) [Dist. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

The sound is clear, well-balanced and warm.

From conductor/cellist/scholar and heaven knows what else Jonathan Cohen, the thinking man’s trending musical polymath, comes convincing, compelling performances of three entirely different pieces of concerto music. In Mozart’s Oboe and Bassoon Concertos, and in Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante, Cohen and his historically-outfitted Arcangelo band, 25 strong, get to the heart of the matter, set up the framework for the solo instruments to enter, play with them to everyone’s evident enjoyment, give them plenty of room in the Mozarts for lots of imaginative, diverting, seductive and even cheeky cadenzas, in which instruments from the group occasionally drop in.

Oboist Alfredo Bernardini plays with a range of color, wit and sensuality that fully explains Mozart’s love affair with the instrument; encouraged no doubt by co-conspirator Cohen, Bernardini plays at least two extra cadenzas, all of which turn out to be spontaneously delicious. The approach by bassoonist Peter Whelan is similar and at times he transforms Mozart’s square-ish writing into something deftly elegant and fair.

Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante is a bit awkward to play, difficult to record and consequently underrated, so it’s nice to report that Cohen’s version, in which Bernardini and Whelan are joined by violinist Ilya Gringolts and cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, two key members of the new generation of classical musicians taking over center stage, is a complete success. Overall, there is a sense of Haydn’s Dickens to Mozart’s Shakespeare, and how good the musicians and recording engineers have collaborated to make the sound clear, well-balanced and warm.

The recordings were made in St. Jude-on-the-Hill in a posh London suburb over a three-year period, and if the two Mozart concertos sound warmer it may be just the quality of Mozart’s writing, or perhaps the challenges of balancing the four solo instruments with the orchestra. Wonderful liner notes by Richard Wigmore.

—Laurence Vittes

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