MOZART: Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C Major, K. 299; Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds in E-Flat Major, K297B – Per Flemström, flute / Birgitte Volan Håvik, harp / Pavel Sokolov, clarinet/ Per Hannisdal, bassoon/ Inger Besserudhagen, horn/ Oslo Philharmonic Orch./ Alan Buribayev (K. 299) / Arvid Enegård (K. 297B) – LAWO Classics multichannel SACD LWC1071, 57:53 (2/18/15) ****:
A winning showcase for the first-chair talents of the Oslo Phil.
Here are two musical souvenirs of Mozart’s ill-advised and even tragic sojourn in Paris during spring and summer of 1778. The ill advice came by way of Mozart’s father, Leopold, ever the impresario, who insisted that Mozart establish his credentials in the French capital. The tragedy involved the death of Mozart’s mother, who had accompanied him on the trip, an event that deeply affected the twenty-two-year-old composer. As it turned out, Mozart made little impact in Paris and ended up being saddled with a couple of commissions for which he was neither recognized nor paid. One of them was for the ballet Les Petites Riens; not only did the management stiff Mozart on this composition, his name didn’t even appear in the program. But then again, ballet was not Mozart’s strong suit, and Les Petites Riens is anything but a masterpiece.
Be that as it may, Mozart failed to receive a commission for an opera, which was surely the quickest way to a Parisian music lover’s heart, though he did premiere a new symphony at Paris’s famous Concert Spirituel. This was the composer’s Symphony 31 in D Major, K. 297/300a, later dubbed The Paris Symphony.
Mozart also received a commission for a concerto for the unusual combination of flute and harp from the Duke of Guines, a talented amateur flutist who wanted a concerto he could play with his harpist daughter, Marie-Louise Philippine. While in Paris, Mozart tutored her in composition but apparently thought less of her talents than he did of her father’s. Again, Mozart received no pay for the commission, and it isn’t clear that the concerto was ever mounted by the flute-playing duke.
It’s the only work that Mozart ever wrote for harp, but he fulfilled his task admirably, writing a flowing, lyrical part for the instrument—as well as for the flute, an instrument he is said to have disliked, even though he wrote masterful music for it. The concerto is one of Mozart’s most popular, and myriad recordings are available (79 by count on Arkivmusic.com). This performance is as fine a one as I’ve heard lately. Per Flemström has a limpid, purling way of flute playing that’s very seductive, and harpist Birgitte Volan Håvik is his equal in virtuosity, though there’s nothing particularly striking about her playing. Kazakh conductor Alan Buribayev, director of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, leads the orchestra with a sure hand, injecting real spunk into the Rondeau finale and the proper air of quiet dignity to the ethereal slow movement.
For comparison, I listened to Christopher Hogwood’s authentic-instrument performance on Decca. Hogwood and his soloists (Lisa Beznosiuk playing a wooden flute) have a very different slant on the music, to say the least, and the performance almost sounds quaint now, with its harpsichord continuo and small string body. Frankly, I’ll take the robust sounds of the Oslo Philharmonic any day.
The Sinfonia Concertante for Winds, supposedly written for a group of Mannheim musicians resident in Paris, is something of a critical curate’s egg. Originally, it was scored for flute instead of clarinet, but the original score has been lost, and critics argue over the authenticity of the revised version that is played today. For one thing, all three movements are in E-flat, something that critics argue Mozart would never have abided in a work of his. On the other hand, it sure sounds Mozartian, and it remains popular and much recorded too. (The sinfonia concertante, a hybrid form that looks back to the concerto grosso of the Baroque, is an odd bird anyway in terms of concerto form, yet Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven all wrote important examples of the genre.)
With a change of conductor, Arvid Enegård, we have another fine performance, especially of the Andante con variazioni finale, where each of the soloists gets to strut his or her stuff, done here with charm and elegance. A special nod to Inger Besserudhagen, who handles the difficult horn part with aplomb.
The SACD surround sound provided by the LAWO engineers is big and warm, with the soloists placed convincingly in relation to the orchestra—no special highlighting, and the orchestra’s rich sheen is never slighted. All around, an excellent Mozart double bill.