Claudio Abbado's excellent Mozart series with his hand-picked Orchestra Mozart continues with this sunny album of concertos written during the 22-year-old composer's 1778 visit to Paris, where works for groups of soloists with orchestral backing were all the rage.
The Sinfonia Concertante was written for wind virtuosi Mozart had previously encountered at the celebrated Mannheim Orchestra. He probably intended it for flute, oboe, bassoon and horn, but the earliest surviving edition seems to have been doctored - the flute is replaced by a clarinet. Its joyous Mozartean melodies leave no doubt about its authenticity, though.
Abbado and company treat it with no less dedication than they would a mature masterpiece. Articulation, dynamics, interplay - all are bountifully illuminating. Orchestral tuttis sometimes feel restrained - Abbado's leash on his musicians is a little too tight at times - but the whole bubbles with bonhomie, thanks in no small degree to the solo quartet, who have bags of individual character and marvellous cohesion.
The Adagio may not be Mozart's most profound slow movement but, with its beguiling operatic melodies and poignant pre-echoes of the Gran Partita serenade, it has a special tenderness which Abbado clearly relishes. The bright and breezy theme of the finale is infectiously cheerful, and the variations feature some dazzling solo turns.
The flute and harp concerto, commissioned by aristocratic amateurs, is more mellow - but Abbado's lively tempi prevent its delectable soft-focus timbres becoming cloying. Dexterous soloists Jacques Zoon and Letizia Belmondo produce a wonderfully ear-caressing blend, and the orchestra carries out its supporting role with as much commitment as if centre-stage - witness, for example, the rich and impeccably unanimous pizzicato passages in the finale. As with all of DG's Orchestra Mozart concerto recordings so far, the soloists are placed unnaturally close up in the mix - something which takes a little getting used to - but otherwise the sound is splendidly crisp and clear.
Regardless of the fact that these concertos are not the composer's most sophisticated, Abbado's supreme affinity for Mozart ensures that these are some of the most satisfying and energising performances you will ever hear.