Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581; Weber: Clarinet Quintet in B flat major, J182

Reviewed on Wed 21 Nov, 2018

Weber’s Quintet receives a performance that carries with it a weight of authority from all musicians.

To those familiar with the usual editions of Mozart’s Quintet, Julian Bliss’s first flourish – beginning on C below middle C and not on G as is usually heard – is sure to arrest attention. That was the lowest note on Anton Stadler’s extended instrument, the basset clarinet in A, and Werner Breig’s reconstruction of 2005 (the autograph is lost) conjecturally – and credibly – offers the text as it might have been written by Mozart. The first UK recording from this edition, by Colin Lawson and The Revolutionary Drawing Room (Clarinet Classics) played on instruments of the period, hews close to critic WJ Turner’s description of Mozart’s “unplumbed melancholy underlying even his brightest and most vivacious moments”. Julian Bliss and the Carducci, a touch bland in the first two movements but more positive in the next two, are nevertheless aesthetically sensitive and technically excellent, qualities that are to the fore in Weber’s Quintet for the standard B flat clarinet. This is a performance that carries with it a weight of authority from all musicians, Bliss as soloist in command of the effortless dexterity required of a work composed for Heinrich Baermann, who, with Simon Hermstedt, was the leading virtuoso of the day. You may also care to explore a recording by Martin Fröst (BIS), the quartet parts arranged for string orchestra by Jean-Jacques Kantorow, who also conducts the Tapiola Sinfonietta. Bright lights are dimmed, atmosphere is denser, the second movement Fantasia eerily subdued. It’s another option.
–Nalen Anthoni