MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218; Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish” – London Symphony Orchestra/ Nikolaj Znaider, violin and conductor – LSO Live LSO0807 (DSD), 50:28 (3/2/18) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

Nikolaj Znaider (b. 1975) assumes the mantle of such violinist-conductors as Nathan Milstein and Wolfgang Schneidehahn, who likewise directed the Mozart 1775 violin concertos from their chosen instrument. These two performances—18 December 2016 (K. 218) and 14 May 2017 (K. 219)—from the Barbican Centre, London, project a warm intimacy, a modest salon atmosphere rather than anything suggesting the imposing, large concert hall venue. The D Major Concerto—which first came to me via Oistrakh and Ormandy—projects a soft, militant fanfare that evolves into a continuous flow of melodic invention. In my experience, only Jiri Novak (with Vaclav Talich) take the Andante cantabile at the brisk, walking tempo that Mozart indicates; others tend to romanticize the excursion, making its high register urgency a seamless love song. For the last movement, a French rondeau, Znaider adds turns as he sees fit, adding to the pastoral dance a rustic, improvised flavor. The delicately, tip-toe approach to the Allegro ma non troppo and its bagpipe effects works quite well, even pointing to kind of violin sound Grieg favors in his incidental music. The cadenza passage from Znaider seems a variation on the opening theme from Schubert’s Fifth Symphony!

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart

The Fifth Concerto from 20 December 1775 raises the bar for virtuosity and athletic diversity of style. The opening of the first movement, Allegro aperto – Adagio, appears dreamy and subdued, for at least six measures, until the music bursts forth in a series of upward, sweeping gestures topped by trills and festive figures for strings and horns. The second marking of aperto now assumes its “bold” and “assertive” connotation, and the slo and strings engage in a series of playful colloquies that no less sail into the winds and horns. The brilliant sound of Znaider’s 1741 “Kreisler” Guarnerius del Gesu projects a ravishing luster here, as well as in the D Major Concerto, courtesy of Producer Andrew Cornall.

The expansive Adagio has, in my listening experience, had few rivals to the combination of Oistrakh and Mitropoulos live in New York, but Znaider brings a decided, introspective intimacy to the occasion. The long line reigns, and the unbroken harmony between Znaider and LSO works its own magic. The Rondeau: Tempo di menuetto last movement combines suave violin proficiency with inspired humor, Mozart’s having incorporated the Janissary elements of his ballet La gelosie del Seraglio into his concerto texture, so as to effect a “Turkish” confection with Hungarian impulses. The melody leaps, while the rhythm receives the percussive col legno taps in the cellos and basses. Znaider intones moments both of lyrical swagger and dervish wildness into his delivery, and so convincing us that the Mozart style and Znaider realize a well-wrought kinship.

—Gary Lemco