Playing of finesse but the competition is formidable

Benjamin Schmid: Mozart

The Strad Issue: May 2024

Description: Playing of finesse but the competition is formidable

Musicians: Orchestra Musica Vitae/Benjamin Schmid (violin)

Works: Mozart: Violin Concertos: no.3 in G major, no.4 in D major, no.5 in A major ‘Turkish’

Catalogue number: GRAMOLA 99307

The Viennese violinist Benjamin Schmid launched his career as a Menuhin protégé and won the Carl Flesch Competition in London in 1992 but seems never to have achieved the recognition in the UK that he has on the continent. Here he fronts the Orchestra Musica Vitae, based in the Swedish city of Växjö, of which he was appointed artistic director in 2020. The church in nearby Hemmesjö, where they record, offers a spacious, airy acoustic, allowing plenty of bloom around Schmid’s 1718 ‘ex-Viotti’ Stradivari.

These are spirited performances, with reasonable balances and ideal tempos, and entirely enjoyable on their own terms. The world of Mozart recordings, though, is an impossibly competitive one and, up against the best recordings of these three concertos, Schmid comes in a close second. There are some entries that are perhaps a little undernourished and, while no gates are rushed, one or two might have been taken with a degree more finesse.

Schmid is at his best in episodes such as the minor-key Andante in the finale of the G major Concerto (K216) or the outdoor music that lends the ‘Turkish’ Concerto in A major (K219) its name. He seems to feel free to let his imagination soar at these points, which only throws a certain plainness at other times into perspective. Among recent recordings that have made strong impressions, Schmid falls just short of the individuality and inventiveness of Francesca Dego (Chandos) or the calm authority and laser focus of Isabelle Faust (Harmonia Mundi), to name just a couple.