Fittingly for an orchestra made up of various nationalities, the three works recorded here present a picture of musical taste in three different countries – Italy, Germany and France – at different periods of the I8th century. For Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante was written with an eye to French taste while he was on a visit in 1778 to Paris, a city which had received him enthusiastically as a prodigy of eight. As an adult, however, he aroused less interest, and although he was offered a post as organist at Versailles (which he declined) and had a success with a new symphony (K297), he was disappointed with his reception in general and highly critical of French music. One thing which did please him was to be asked by the director of the Concerts Spirituels (who had commissioned the "Puts" Symphony) to write a sinfonia concertante for three distinguished wind soloists – flute, oboe and bassoon – from the fine orchestra at Mannheim (which he had visited just previously) and a touring Bohemian horn virtuoso. Mozart set to work in great chaste; but then intrigue seems to have sabotaged the plan. For some reason the score was never sent to be copied, and then mysteriously vanished – much to the annoyance of the musicians and of Mozart himself. Almost a century later a copy turned up, though scored not for the original combination but for oboe, clarinet and bassoon with a different horn part.
Whether this was a later version by Mozart, who had talked of rewriting the work from memory, or merely an arrangement by someone else, is still being argued by experts; but the opening certainly resembles that of other E flat works of his, and in the tranquil slow movement (somewhat surprisingly in the home key of E flat) the strings, under the first solo entry, play one of his favorite thematic tags (that which begins the finale of the "Jupiter" Symphony). The soloists' chief opportunity for display comes in the finale, a set of variations on an ingenuous theme with a refrain resembling a French vaudeville the tenth variation, however, is followed by a brief Adagio before the sprightly 6/8 final variation.
When Bach became director of the Collegium Musicum concerts in Liepzig in 1729, he transcribed a number of his existing concertos so that his sons and pupils could perform them as keyboard concertos. Among these latter was one in C minor for two harpsichords (though neither the pans nor the score are in Bach's own hand): even at first glance it seems plain that this could not have been its original medium, for the many long sustained notes –particularly in the broad Adagio, the contour of whose principal theme depends on them – are quite alien to the harpsichord's nature. Closer examination reveals that Bach must have had in mind two dissimilar instruments, since although in the slow movement the solo lines are interwoven in close initiation, in the outer ones the active passage-work of one and the smoother cantabile of the other are never interchanged. On these grounds the conjectural reconstruction of the work for oboe and violin appears fully justified (even although one low note lies outside the oboe's range); but musicological speculation pales before the impact of the vigour of the first movement, which features an "echo" falling figure; the expressive flow of the Adagio (whose pizzicato marking for the string accompaniment, incidentally, may have been by a later hand); and the alertness of the finale (dominated by its springy opening ritornello) into which it leads.
Bach's concertos were developments of the form established by Vivaldi (ten of whose concertos he transcribed). Vivaldi's huge output of such works was tailored to the most extreme diversity of soloists –some were for single instruments, others for several. Among the latter is the present work, one of three he wrote for the feast-day of S. Lorenzo (10 August): it is richly scored for two recorders (flutes in this performance), two oboes, two violins, bassoon and two Clam – which, although interpreted by some scholars as meaning "clarini" (high trumpets), were more probably the early two-keyed clarinets, whose first known orchestral use by Vivaldi in his oratorio Juditha triumphans in 1716. (He also asked, in the slow movement, fora lute to play arpeggios to support the long cantilena for the solo clarinet.) For the bear pan of two centuries the convent of S. Lorenzo was famous for the lavishness of its ceremonies –partly because it was an establishment favoured by wealthy aristocratic families in which to place their refractory daughters (who nevertheless managed to continue their escapades). Unusually, there is a slow introduction before the main first Allegro, between the four appearances of whose festive ritornello the soloists appear in pairs (the clarinets being the last on the scene). The ritornello of the finale is even more exuberantly based on the notes of the tonic chord: though all solo instruments appear, it is the violins (the first of which, in the first movement, was taken up to A") who are accorded star treatment. - Lionel Salter, 1984
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