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Much to praise

Mozart wind concertos -
reviewed by

'The performances range from able to among the best.'

English Chamber Orchestra - Mozart Wind Concertos. Ralf Gothóni. © 2004 English Chamber Orchestra

The English Chamber Orchestra was founded over forty years ago and few orchestras can claim a larger or more consistently excellent catalog of recordings. I've been especially partial to their playing of Mozart. Except for those who insist on original instruments, Murray Perahia's complete set of piano concertos with the ECO is the one to have. So I was looking forward to hearing these performances, and even more intrigued because the soloists are all ECO first-chairs. With good luck, or perhaps the right agent, many first chairs could be competing with better known solo performers. These soloists reinforce that idea and there is much to praise in the release, though a few imperfections as well.

Microphone placement is one of them. Since the set highlights musicians who seldom take center stage, it's odd the recording engineers have made them sound almost as if they remain seated in their respective sections [listen -- CD 1 track 1, 1:38-2:32]. Concerto recordings usually suffer from the opposite problem. (As much as I love those of Itzhak Perlman for example, it often seems he's using an electronic violin while the orchestra is playing in another room with the door closed.) The soloists here carry over the orchestra, but distant miking detracts from the liveliness of the sound, and the ambience of a fair size hall doesn't help either.

The performances range from able to among the best. In the clarinet concerto just sampled Anthony Pike has an attractive tone and articulates cleanly, however his dynamics won't fit all tastes. He tends to swell held notes in both slow and fast movements, perhaps a nod to authentic performance. Antony Pay's approach with conductor Christopher Hogwood (Decca) seems more natural and lively. Pay uses the extended-range of the basset clarinet to outstanding effect in their authentic-instrument performance.

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Copyright © 23 January 2005 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


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