MOZART: Violin Concerto Nos. 4 & 5  – Nikolaj Znaider, violin and conductor/ London Symphony Orchestra – LSO 

by | Mar 19, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews

Nikolaj Znaider proves a facile and elegant purveyor of Mozart’s two greatest violin concertos.

MOZART: Violin Concerto no. 4 in D Major, K. 218; Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish” – Nikolaj Znaider, violin and conductor/ London Symphony Orchestra – LSO Live (DSD) LSOO807, 50:28 (3/2/18)  (Distr. by [PIAS]) ****:

Recorded 18 December 2016 (K. 218) and 14 May 2017 (K. 219), the two superior violin concertos Mozart composed at age nineteen (1775) allow solo Nikolaj Znaider to demonstrate the silken gloss of his 1741 “Kreisler” Guarnerius, leading the responsve LSO from his instrument, as had Nathan Milstein and Wolfgang Schneiderhahn their respective ensembles some two generations ago. Znaider seeks less a “salon” effect than a broad, concertante collaboration, with the D Major’s focus on a martial, consistent melodic flow. The petite, brass fanfare serves an introductory purpose, repeats to allow Znaider to enter, and then disappears. Znaider incorporates its gentle pomp into his first movement cadenza. The Andante cantabile has a touch of a ritard in the tempo which most realizations produce, with only Jiri Novak and Vaclav Talich’s ever having made the walking pace more animate. The soulful interchange of Znaider with the lower strings warrants the price of admission. The last movement, a French Rondeau: Andante grazioso, enjoys Znaider’s application of ad libitum ornaments and turns.  The latter part of the movement explores an aristocratic gavotte, if the opening remains more rustic. The bit of cadenza Znaider proffers begins to sound like the opening of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. The lithe grace and easy facility of the entire concerto has proved immaculate and engaging, at once.

The youthful energy and spry humor of the A Major Concerto—completed 20 December 1775—has long impressed performers and audiences alike with the maturity of its design, and the promise it held for any further explorations by Mozart into the violin concerto, none of which were forthcoming. Znaider plays with the opening moments, six measures adagio, then rushes in, Allegro aperto, into the juicy, bounced phrases that echo between violin and orchestra. The development of the movement stays true to the designation aperto, bold, eager. The upward turn of phrase shared between solo and orchestra leads to some exquisite humor, with Znaider’s exploiting his double stops. The LSO wind choir keeps our attention riveted to the fine sonorities the young composer commands with such ease of expression. Znaider’s cadenza borrows energies from the Italian, particularly the Viotti, school of bravura, only a stone’s throw away from Paganini.

The broad Adagio movement projects a magical self-possession rare in any composer, but especially serene in its present cast.  Strings and horns combine to set the stage for Znaider’s extensive cantilena. Znaider holds a delicate but tensile line throughout this astonishing meditation for violin and orchestra. The last movement, the eponymous “Turkish” moment, exploits the popular love for “janissary” effects, as Hungarian as they are Ottoman, whose exaggerated melodic leaps, tinkling cymbal, and col legno designations would inform his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio. The striking facility of all parts once more impresses us, with the various “periods” of the movement flowing into each other seamlessly. The harmonic shift and modal color suddenly plummet us in to the exotic world that will soon assume “Byzantine” proportions. Znaider inserts a quick cadenza to recap the opening motif, concluded by his little turn: and presto, we enter into the world of sheiks and harems and dervishes. The LSO strings add a touch of winter wind into their slides. The cello and bass strikes upon their wood resonate like soft gunshots. The da capo seems pompously ornate, self-conscious of its “departure” into risqué territory. But it’s been great fun and exquisite taste, and we only wish, time permitting, Znaider had added a rondo or serenade movement to fill out this gracious excursion into Mozart’s Salzburg violin creations.

—Gary Lemco