There is so much competition - and bounty of riches for us listeners - among the newer batch of youngish violinists, it's difficult to pronounce a favorite. I am a big fan of James Ehnes and Kristof Barati. And in Mozart, the sense of discovery offered by Henning Kraggerud (on Naxos) is magnificent. I am just discovering Philippe Graffin and am just coming across this splendid 2007 Mozart set. I am mightily impressed - indeed completely won (bowled) over - by his Mozart! This performance of the 3rd Concerto is simply outstanding. It immediately rises to the top of my favorite recordings of this particular concerto for its unmatched sense of freshness, joyousness, spontaneity and sense of discovery. Graffin plays his own cadenzas, which are always a delight, and the entire approach is stylistically appropriate, with perfectly chosen tempos. Indeed, the 3rd movement Rondeau is taken at a true Allegro, quicker than any I can remember, yet so completely natural and correct, hearing it played at any other speed will sound dull.
Likewise, the Sinfonia Concertante is again fresh and stylishly alert. Graffin is joined by the glorious Nobuko Imai, who plays with agility and a gorgeous tone, which never sounds thick (like some) or strained (like others). Again, the feeling of spontaneity abounds. The 2nd movement, in particular, is so rhapsodic and naturally flowing, it almost sounds improvised. And the finale is played Presto (as marked), and dances most delightfully.
Both works benefit from the glorious playing of the Brabant Philharmonic Orchestra. No conductor is specified, so it is assumed Mr. Graffin leads them from the solo spot. Topping it all off is recorded quality of the very highest order from Avie. It is naturally detailed and clear, within a lovely, warm acoustic.
Disc 2 offers rather short measure in the form of the 2 Duos for Violin and Viola. These are most enjoyable and exhibit the same sense of joyfulness and sheer musicianship. These 2 players are a perfect match.
In a day and age when the major labels continue to flood the market with redundant and irrelevant recordings, and endless reissues, it is so refreshing to hear something this fresh and invigorating from enterprising labels like Avie (and Chandos, and Naxos, and others). I am dismayed, however, that Avie has apparently abandoned this project. Instead they have given us a complete set with Shlomo Mintz (2005), which is good, but in no way distinctive, followed 10 years later by a completely routine set with the latest, flash-in-the-pan "star", Rachel Barton Pine and the 91-year-old Neville Marriner. Avie sometimes has trouble sticking to a project for some reason (evidenced also by their abandoned Gal symphony cycle with Zehetmair, only to start one all over with a different conductor). It is a great pity they did not record the remaining 4 concertos with Graffin and this same orchestra. For what we have here is some of the most glorious Mozart I've heard. It is stupendous music-making.
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