We've met Frabcesca Dego before on Classical Explorer not once, but twice: performing on the famous "Il Cannone" violin (on Chandos) and performing Wolf-Ferrari and Paganini on DG. Here she is - again on Chandos, this time with the respected conductor Sir Roger Norrington and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in two Mozart Concertos, and with her long-term musical partner Francesca Leonardi in a Mozart Sonata for Keyboard and Violin (arguably the finest of them all, the E minor, K 304, also identified here as Mozart's "Op. 1 No. 4").
The orchestra is laid out as it would have been in Salzburg at the time of composition: antiphonal violins and a reduced size. The proportions seem ideal when one listens to the perfomances; but before we hear any of the music, let's heard from both soloist and conductor. Here's Francesca Dego - who first met Sir Roger in 2010 at the Royal College of Music:
This recording is the first instalment of my most inspiring musical journey yet! Had I not met and started working with Sir Roger I might have waited another twenty years before recording Mozart’s perfect violin concerti. Suddenly with him everything made sense. We discussed sound, phrasing, bowings, vibrato, ornamentation and tempi for months, enjoying the process and discovering new details. How he shapes every aspect of the orchestral lines and accompaniments allows me to sing my melodies whilst literally tasting the harmonic rhythm. I am truly thrilled and honoured to present ‘my’ Mozart alongside one of the most admired Mozart interpreters in history
... and here's Sir Roger:
I relished the opportunity to record these delicious concertos with a brilliant young virtuoso willing to take on board modern scholarship about Mozart style and with an excellent, alert orchestra, equally open and ready for discovery ... I hope these performances sound young, fresh, and spontaneous. The care taken to use a historically appropriate style is not meant to make the music sound ‘scholarly’ or ‘correct’, but brilliant, touching, and exciting
"Fresh" doesn't even start to cover the effect of these performances. It's impossible not to smile in the finales. But more - much more - is the fact that all concerned have taken these concertos as major Mozart, and their import grows exponentially. While the list of recordings of these pieces is near-infinite (and one should remember Anne-Sophie Mutter has done much to bring these works to the public's attention), these performances rise to the top of the pile (and it says "Volume One" on the packaging!). Remember these are easily dismissed as "early works," the first violin concertos dating from between June and December 1775. And yet what delights they hold!
Here's the finale of the Concerto in G, K 216 (1775) just to prove the smiley bit but also to get a flavour of the verve available here. It's easy to forget these are studio recordings:
The first movements of both concertos are played with great understanding and gusto; both includes fabulously stylish cadenzas by Franco Gulli. Let's hear that of the D major Concerto (No. 4), K 218, also of 1775:
The combination of gentle flow and a distinct lack of over-sentimentalisation characterises the slow movements. It would be wrong not to incude one here, so here's the heavenly one from K 218 (just on the basis that is is probably the least famous of the two):
And so to the final offering, the two-movement E minor Sonata, arguably the greatest of the Mozart sonatas for keyboard and violin. The rapport between the two players is clear, and the way they explore Mozart's fabulous workings is informed with the curiosity and verve of youth. Francesca Leonardi plays on a Fazioli instrument, which sounds light enough at times to be a fortepiano:
The performance style is specifically informed by a treatise on the violin by Mozart's father, Leopold, aspects of which are itemised in the booklet in a note by Norrington; the excellent notes on the pieces themselves are by Michael O'Loghlin.
A release for all lovers of Mozart: life-enhancing, bracing, beautiful.