Focusing on the main attractions of this release, the two Concertos, this is my first encounter with violinist Sebastian Bohren. And it couldn't be more positive. His Mozart is simply...glorious. It...dances! I could barely sit still listening to it. Not in an antsy way, but swaying-to-the-music kind of way. His interaction with the chamber musicians is communicative and animated in a way rarely heard on record. There is a sense of joy and inspiration which is awe-inspiring. And what a singing tone he produces! I could not stop smiling all through these concertos. I can't remember being this excited about a new violinist since discovering Kristof Barati (on Brilliant Classics).
Adding to the marvelous music-making, Avie (again, speaking of the concertos) have produced a recorded sound and balance which are among the best I've heard in a violin concerto. This is a good old-fashioned CD (no SACD here), proving the medium is still alive and well. This one is simply sensational. I have often noted that Avie's house sound is rather forward and bold. But this Mozart is utterly natural. What is especially remarkable is the warm, reverberant hall, which has been masterfully controlled. What we hear is an intimate group of musicians performing in the most perfect acoustic, and the listener gets the best seat in the house - mid-hall back, with the musicians laid out right at the front of the stage.
The Symphony, recorded 2 years earlier, is a little less successful. The playing of it is delightful - full of charm and with many uniquely individual touches, particularly with regard to dynamics (especially at the pianissimo level). But it seems oddly out-of-place on this disc. I would have much preferred a 3rd concerto. And what worked so wonderfully in the Concertos, the Symphony ultimately needs a few more string players than this very small group comprises. And it sounds like the Avie engineers may have tried to "help" them a bit. The spacious acoustic remains intact, but now the cellos/bass seem more closely mic'd and pushed a bit forward, while the remaining strings sound a little lean. Inner details and articulation are clearer and cleaner than usual, though, but the balance just isn't quite right here. Fortunately, none of this is too serious. The music-making is engaging. And perhaps if it had come first on the disc, rather than sandwiched in-between the concertos, it might have been more welcome.
Searching the booklet, I discovered quite a disparity in recording dates, which may explain some of the differences I hear between the Symphony and the Concertos. The symphony was recorded first, in 2018, and the concertos came two years later, in June 2020. Reading further, it was interesting to learn the concertos were recorded with the musicians spaced apart, observing social-distancing protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only that, they recorded them twice! Mr. Bohren did not like what he heard after the first round of recording sessions and convinced all involved to re-record both concertos in their entireties. What makes this all so incredibly fascinating, is that the final results are so outstanding, in both interpretation and recorded sound. This is some of the freshest Mozart I've heard in a long while; and the sound is as good as it gets.
I sincerely hope this is only the first in a series; I really want to hear the remaining three Concertos from this incredibly talented violinist and the wonderful CHAARTS Chamber Artists - IF Avie can continue the results heard in the 2020 sessions.