Mozart's string concertos, though quite lovely, are not generally held in as much esteem as the piano concertos -- except for the sublime Sinfonia Concertante. That masterpiece has received many fine recordings, but for nearly a half-century my favorite version has been the 1964 collaboration by the great Belgian violinist Artur Grumiaux and violist Arrigo Pelliccia, supported by the warmly sympathetic accompaniment of Colin Davis and the LSO.
Lara St. John is rapidly establishing herself as one of the leading young violinists. She can be a dazzling player, and her striking looks make her even more promotable. Ancalagon is "her" label, and prior to this SACD had issued her Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Her playing here is technically strong, and her chemistry with her older brother in the K. 364 is quite winning. But for this listener, Scott St. John -- currently a violinist with the St. Lawrence String Quartet -- is the real star of this new disc.
From my first hearing of this performance I found Scott's playing exceptionally striking. Subsequently I read that for this performance his viola is tuned scordatura -- i.e., in D Major, a semitone higher than the score's signature key of E-flat Major. No doubt that change allows the viola sound to be more penetrating, more of an equal partner to the violin. The orchestral contribution by The Knights, a crack New York chamber ensemble, is beautifully scaled and paced. This performance is my favorite from the digital era, and worthy to join Davis on my metaphorical top shelf for this work.
Scott's playing in the First Violin Concerto is simply fabulous as well. Interestingly, his violin sound has a viola-like warm tonality here. Conductor Eric Jacobsen and The Knights give this lightly scored concerto a sweetly intimate reading. Altogether, the most satisfying performance of this concerto I have heard.
In the Third Concerto, Lara St. John projects a brighter, somewhat silvery tone and a more aggressive attack. This concerto is scored for a larger ensemble, and while The Knights play superbly here as well, their more extroverted approach winds up sounding a bit more ordinary than either of its disc mates.
The two-channel SACD sound is very good, faithfully capturing the contrasting sounds of the soloists within a warmly resonant acoustic. A highly recommendable disc.
K. 364, 207:
K. 364, 207: