Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mozart: Concertos for Flute & Harp

The cover of this album, with the featured Mozart-era flute disassembled into a half-dozen compartments in its box, piques the listener's interest. (Actually, a copy of the instrument is heard on the album.) So does the sound of the wooden flute when one gets to hear it: it doesn't have the fluttering, agile quality of a modern flute, but rather a sweet, whistling tone. 

With the small, authentic-instrument accompaniment of the Ensemble Schönbrunn backing flutist Marten Root, the listener has the feeling of hearing these works pretty much as Mozart heard them when he wrote them in Paris at the end of the 1770s. So it's disappointing that the performances here aren't all they could be. 

There's a certain trivial but ingratiating quality to these works -- which Mozart himself didn't care for, if he can be believed -- that is essential to their realization; they have to be sentimental and cute, but Root's performances, although they make very nice use of the old-style flute technically, don't quite have the necessary Parisian-entertainment quality. The sonic atmosphere of Amsterdam's Waalse Kerk, not a large church but still large enough to make the music feel remote, also works to the music's detriment.

Recording music meant for crowded aristocratic soirées in an empty church is often wrong, and here it results in the harp of Masumi Nagasawa in the Concerto for flute, harp, and orchestra in C major, K. 299, being swallowed up in its quieter passages. Her harp is likewise an old instrument with an interesting tone, but it seems to fade in and out like a radio station suffering from poor reception. This recording will not displease the Mozart lover, and it has little competition in the historical-performance arena when it comes to these works. Players interested in the instruments of Mozart's time, however, might try different approaches.

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