Pentatone have really backed a winner with Julia Fischer. Only in her mid twenties she is consistently praised to the skies for her concert performances and recordings. To cap it all, Gramophone named her Artist of the Year in their 2007 awards. Having already produced well received versions of Mozart's Violin Concertos with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under Yakov Kreizberg, she here turns her attention to the wonderful Sinfonia Concertante K.364. In this and the earlier Concertone for 2 Violins and Orchestra K.190, she is partnered excellently by Gordan Nikolić and the result is a disc of elegant and eminently enjoyable music-making.
Although they are performances that have evidently learnt a little from 'authentic' performance, they retain, especially in the tutti sections of the Sinfonia Concertante, a sense of grandeur and occasion. Although the orchestra lacks nothing in rhythmic bite when required, listen for example to the vigorous pizzicati at 1'18 in the first movement. The actual sound of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, especially when listening as an SACD, is refreshingly vibrant; there's no smooth lacquer masking the orchestral details. Against this backdrop, Fischer's sweet toned violin and Nikolić's pungent and plangent viola converse playfully.
Throughout, the playing by the two soloists has an irresistible joie de vivre, but with no lack of intimacy: their shared cadenza in the first movement is particularly delightful. The glorious Andante is made to sound like a real, human dialogue – the slightly confused liner note is without doubt right here when it notes 'the slow movement, especially, could easily be a duet from one of his operas'. Nikolić's viola playing gives one a good idea of why Mozart was so fond of the instrument and Fischer's playing is remarkably unaffected, she might be a star player but she is a natural chamber musician too. Although some more Romantic versions of the work might wring out more in the way of tortured emotion in this movement, this subtle, understated performance is every bit as moving. The Presto is despatched with evident relish capping a fine performance of one of the greatest works of Mozart's pre-Vienna period.
The Concertone, an earlier work dating from 1774 – as indicated by the distant clinking of a harpsichord in the orchestra – is a wonderfully easy-going complement to the meatier Sinfonia Concertante. Although lighter (and slighter), it provides ample demonstration of Mozart's elusive genius. Much of the compositional process is based on repetition and sequential writing which, in anyone else's hands, could so easily end up being tedious. However, Mozart employs these devices artlessly and to wonderful effect. He's helped significantly by the playing of Fischer and Nikolić, as well as Hans Meyer, the orchestra's oboist, who also plays a significant part (indeed the booklet essay contradicts the cover's designation - and Grove's - by calling it a Concertone for two violins, oboe and cello). The conversation here might be less involved and serious than in the Sinfonia Concertante but is every bit as enjoyable for the listener, as evidently it was for the performers.
This disc is the icing on the cake of Fischer's Mozart concerto series on Pentatone and is another distinguished addition to her burgeoning discography. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long for the next.
By Hugo Shirley