Fine performances but the music fails to linger in the memory

Fumika Mohri: Saint-Georges

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: Fine performances but the music fails to linger in the memory

Musicians: Fumika Mohri (violin) Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice/Michael Halász

Works: Saint-Georges: Violin Concertos: G major op.2 no.1, D major op.2 no.2, A major op.7 no.1, B flat major op.7 no.2

Catalogue number: NAXOS 8.574452

The welcome restoration of the reputation of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, continues apace. The rediscovery of his music extends beyond his instrumental output with the recent revival and premiere recording of his greatest operatic success, L’amant anonyme, and he is the subject of a major biopic, Chevalier. Naxos has been recording his music for over 20 years and now turns to two pairs of violin concertos that invite comparison with a composer to whom his name is often linked – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The two knew each other; and to the extent that they were contemporaries and spoke, as it were, with the same musical vernacular, there’s some justification for the lazy but tabloid-friendly ‘Black Mozart’ epithet by which Saint-Georges has perhaps inevitably become known.

Of course, he was far more than just the Salzburger’s mini-me: a glance at the list of his achievements amply demonstrates that. His concertos display his own brand of virtuosity, delighting in sweet melodies in the highest positions and exploiting all the effects that the new Tourte bow enabled. His impulse is primarily lyrical, even in fast music. What his concertos lack, though, is Mozart’s instinct for the dramatic moment, the harmonic surprise, the unexpected melodic twist. Finely wrought as they undeniably are – and lovingly dispatched by violinist Fumika Mohri and her Czech accomplices – they give nothing but pleasure in the listening but don’t trouble the memory for long.