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Eminently Competitive

Mozart works
for clarinet -
reviewed by

'... Paul Dean demonstrates his exemplary fluency ...'

Sublime Mozart - Works for Clarinet. © 2008 Melba Recordings

A recording dedicated to Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (Founding benefactor of the Melba Foundation), philanthropist and mother of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, on the occasion of her one hundredth birthday -- 8 February 2009.

Mozart is Dame Elisabeth's favorite composer and the clarinet her favored instrument -- so the program here was pretty well a foregone conclusion.

Listen -- Mozart: Adagio (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 2, 0:00-1:39) © 2008 Melba Recordings

Both 'sublime' works were written at the end of Mozart's curtailed life; and both intended for Austrian clarinet and basset horn player Anton Stadler (1753-1812).

Two months before his death in October 1791, Mozart completed the Clarinet Concerto in A, K622, his last concerto and final major work. Despite these last years having been beset with poor health, domestic upsets and financial hardship, or perhaps because of these 'slings and arrows', the concerto has a remarkable, transcendent serenity and beauty.

The Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A, K581, was written in 1789 and finished on 29 September. It is sometimes referred to as the Stadler Quintet; indeed Mozart referred to it as such in a letter of April 1790.

The concerto has never been more divinely performed on disc than by Bernard Walton with the Philharmonia Orchestra and von Karajan in 1957 (Testament SBT1381, mono). The accompanying work is Brahms' Clarinet Quintet. Walton was held in such high regard that when Herbert von Karajan assumed the position of Berlin Philharmonic music director, he told unparalleled EMI record producer Walter Legge (1906-1979), 'If we were not old friends, I would immediately engage Walton for my Berlin orchestra.'

Those who insist on state-of-the-art recorded sound quality will find the same works as Melba's (on Pentatone, 2005) with the Marriners; Neville (conducting), Andrew (clarinet) and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields (concerto), then the ASMF Chamber Ensemble (quintet).

The legendary (late) Jack Brymer, RPO principal (1947-1963) is clarinet soloist on a Philips disc of Mozart's concertos for clarinet, oboe and bassoon with Marriner and the ASMF. Another imperishable performance features clarinetist Alfred Prinz with the VPO and Karl Böhm (DGG).

Finally Mozart's Clarinet Quintet (K581) has seldom sounded better than when entrusted to Swiss clarinettist Eduard Brunner and the Hagen Quartet, coupled with the Weber clarinet quintet (DGG, 1988).

With the best will in the world, listening to the Queensland Orchestra after the Philharmonia, Vienna Philharmonic, ASMF or Academy of Ancient Music is nowhere near like comparing apples with apples.

Listen -- Mozart: Allegro (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 1, 0:00-1:31) © 2008 Melba Recordings

Though the QO is impressively practiced and consistently supportive it has neither the laser-like precision, the well-nourished string body, nor the authority of any of the above.

Nevertheless in both works Paul Dean demonstrates his exemplary fluency and a stylish, marvelously phrased affinity for Mozart's classical demands. Moreover conductor Tourniaire appears to have the measure of the enduringly superlative score.

Still better, Dean and the Grainger Quartet turn in a sensitive, eminently competitive account of the Clarinet Quintet (1789) but again there's no lack of contenders vying for the CD punters' attention.

Another of my personal favourites has Mozart's fivesome alongside Weber's far less well-known equivalent; the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B flat, Op 34. In this instance we hear London-born Emma Johnson with violinists Gábor Takás-Nagy and Rebecca Hirsch, Timothy Boulton, viola, and cellist Andrew Shulman (ASV, 2008).

On occasions however I expect to enjoy some further R&R, reacquainting myself with Melba Recordings' excellent centenarian tribute disc.

Listen -- Mozart: Larghetto (Clarinet Quintet)
(track 5, 4:55-6:06) © 2008 Melba Recordings

Copyright © 18 February 2009 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand




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