CD REVIEW - Classic Today.com
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791):
Flute Concertos Nos. 1&2; Concerto for Flute & Harp
Patrick Gallois (flute); Fabrice Pierre (harp)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra, dir. Patrick Gallois
Naxos - 8557011 (CD)

I have to confess, I seldom listen to these pieces. Not because everyone agrees that they aren't "great" Mozart, but because most performances usually fall into one of two equally loathsome categories, which for convenience we may call Flutezilla vs. The Antiques Road Show. First, there is Flutezilla--the ego-boosting display of some star soloist who simply must record these concertos because Mozart wrote them and, let's face it, no other great composer between the Baroque period and the 20th century cared enough about the flute to even attempt to compose anything similarly worth playing. These productions usually feature the soloist blasting away on an instrument over-miked to the point where, regarding balance with the orchestra, it offers the aural equivalent of Godzilla stomping on teeny tiny Tokyo--"Tokyo" in this case being represented by a bargain-basement ensemble (I Solisti di Fresno, perhaps?) usually bored out of its mind, led by a no-talent, no-name conductor for whom excitement means having everyone start and end more or less at the same time (never mind what happens along the way). More than a few great flutists have thus been defeated by these lovely, unassuming works when played and recorded in such a fashion.

Then there's The Antiques Road Show. This more recent, second batch of vile recordings comes from those terribly earnest period-instrument folks. Here it's the flutist who's usually the one with no name and no talent, as well as no timbre and no intonation, playing some "authentically replicated copy" of an 18th-century wooden atrocity impressively designated as a "flauto traverso" or some such--as if it makes one iota of difference if the player blows the ghastly thing sideways, front-ways, backwards, upside down, or under water. Any way you slice it, the instrument sounds like a whistling tea-kettle in distress, with far more hiss of escaping air than musical tone. But in this case, the soloist has the backing of some "trs la mode" period-instrument pick-up band attacking the music with a sadistically ferocious ideological fervor more appropriate to the Manson family or the Symbionese Liberation Army than to a proper chamber orchestra. Naturally the soloist doesn't stand a chance, and given the appalling quality of the instrument in question, this probably is a good thing when all is said and done.

All of which is a long way of saying that I have no hesitation in declaring this to be the finest recording of Mozart's flute concertos currently available, and believe me, I've suffered through most of them. It has everything: a first rate soloist, a marvelous orchestra obviously mindful of period practice but playing modern instruments, an intelligently added harpsichord continuo (especially wonderful as a foil to the timbre of the harp), and boundless enthusiasm from all concerned. It's captured by Naxos in excellently balanced, warm, pellucidly clear sound. All it takes is about 10 seconds' listening to any single movement in any of these three works to make the outstanding quality of the musicianship self evident. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra launches the opening Allegro aperto of the Second Concerto (wisely placed first on the disc) with infectious rhythmic drive, and from the moment of Patrick Gallois' joyous, chirping entrance the performance flies by like a force of nature.

Listen to how characterfully the horn and oboe parts contribute to the opening tutti of the Concerto for Flute and Harp, and to the lively and luscious interplay between harpist Fabrice Pierre and Gallois throughout their many exchanges over the course of the movement. Taut rhythms and vivid accents keep the ear consistently engaged from first note to last. The long central Adagio of the First concerto is so beautiful that you easily could enjoy it for another nine minutes, and Gallois' cadenzas in all three works never outstay their welcome, being as fresh and pithy as Mozart's own music. No praise could be higher than to note how, in the same concerto's concluding Tempo di Menuetto, so often a dreary chore in other performances, Gallois & Cie manage to find a tempo both stately, as befits a minuet, but also energetically forward-moving, as befits a concerto finale. Really there's no reason to own any other version of this music, particularly given Naxos' budget price. As for the recording(s) already in your collection, they'll make a classy set of coasters.


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