LAWRENCE BUDMEN reviews
clarinettist Alexander Fiterstein's concert
with the American String Quartet
The relationship between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Anton Stadler (1753-1812) was often complex and turmoil-ridden. Stadler was the first great virtuoso clarinetist. A pioneer on his instrument, Stadler invented a downward extension. This new 'basset clarinet' inspired Mozart to write two of his sublime late masterpieces -- the Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto. Stadler was himself a composer who resented Mozart's genius. Living in Mozart's home, Stadler spent the composer's money and was a less than faithful friend. Stadler would abandon Mozart during his difficult final year; yet, were it not for Stadler's musical innovations, Mozart would not have composed the serene Clarinet Quintet in A K581. (Mozart, Stadler, and colleagues premièred the work in December 1789 in Vienna.) This marvelous score was the featured work on a stellar chamber music concert by the American String Quartet on 3 February 2005 at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, USA.
The American String Quartet
Mozart's late scores are distinguished by an inner pathos and autumnal sadness that lie beneath the sparkling surface of these musical masterpieces. In the Clarinet Quintet, the elegance and aristocratic authority of Mozart's melodic inspiration are joined by a new formal rigor and understated serenity. The American Quartet players (Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney, violins; Daniel Avshalomov, viola; and Margo Tatgenhorst Drakos, cello) were joined by the brilliantly gifted American clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein for an incandescent performance of this landmark opus. From the very first notes of the opening Allegro, the American foursome exuded a tonal beauty, ensemble precision, and sweeping musicality that are the sine qua non of great chamber music performances. The luminous beauty with which phrases were turned, the sweetness of instrumental sound was an artistic treasure! Fiterstein's mellow, beautiful clarinet tone blended with the ensemble wonderfully. There was a natural, totally unforced quality to the performance that is all too rare in contemporary music making. Fiterstein's understated shaping of the movement's second subject was exquisitely molded. The calm beauty of the Larghetto seemed to breathe from another realm. Fiterstein's clarion tone and beautiful phrasing were a model of superb instrumental control and mastery. The invigorating accentuations of the Menuetto brought real character to the music. (This was not a facile performance that merely presented the notes accurately.) The string players brought special elegance to the trio -- Avshalomov's viola and Drakos's cello providing a rich, dark musical undercurrent. The sprightly élan of the final Allegretto con Variazione was a delight. Fiterstein and the American Quartet players made each variation sound fresh and surprising -- as if the music were newly created. The intoxicating brio of the coda capped a performance that approached that rarified aura of perfection! A true paragon of Mozart chamber music playing!
Copyright © 12 February 2005
Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA