To understand Mozart, a violinist thinks like a singer

Album Cover
To prepare for this recording, violinist Maxim Vengerov led the young members of the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in study sessions on an Israeli kibbutz.
Album Cover

On his latest recording, violinist Maxim Vengerov is searching for the soul of Mozart. He finds it with the help of the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble made up of musicians aged 17-29, from some 30 countries. Vengerov appears as both soloist and conductor on the new disc. He wanted to be sure he and his young orchestra could all work on equal footing, so he led the players in study sessions on an Israeli kibbutz.

As he began to explore Mozart's violin concertos in depth, Vengerov discovered echoes of the concertos in many of Mozart's operatic arias. With that in mind, he solicited help from his friend, soprano Cecilia Bartoli. She helped him to think like a singer. In Mozart's second violin concerto, that made his task more difficult; the piece contains intervals that are perfectly straightforward for the violin, but not for the voice. So Vengerov challenged himself not to make it sound too easy.

Mozart had already written several operas by the time he started composing violin concertos. He was in love with the human voice, and we can hear that in the Violin Concerto No. 2. Mozart could have written something much more complex, but rather than showing off with lots of tricks on the violin, Mozart keeps things simple, allowing the soloist plenty of room to display the beauty of the piece.

Mozart frequently performed in salons with generous acoustics that allowed the musicians to play chamber music with intimacy and finesse. Vengerov captures that authentic chamber quality on this new release. In the second concerto, his delicate touch allows for an even wider dynamic range with more expressive crescendos and diminuendos. Showing just how mesmerized he is by Mozart's music, Vengerov also wrote an elaborate cadenza near the end of the slow movement. This is a brilliant solo passage that's incredibly difficult, yet very lyrical.

During the mid-18th century, composers started increasing the number and variety of orchestral instruments they used in their works. This is when Mozart started to experiment with a fusion between the established concerto and the fast-emerging classical symphony. The term "concertante" implies that the soloists should emerge from the texture of the orchestra and that's exactly what happens when the violin and viola first enter in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364. On this new recording, Maxim Vengerov and violist Lawrence Power come in so gradually that I found myself wondering if they'd actually made their entrance. It's a magical moment.

This recording is about collaborating with young people as they journey together to find the soul of Mozart. That experience is captured beautifully on this new Mozart recording, which will certainly enrich all of us who experience it.

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