Mozart: Clarinet Concerto (CD review)

Also, Clarinet Quintet. Sharon Kam, basset clarinet. Osterreichisch-Ungarische Haydn Philharmonie. Berlin Classics 0016672BC.

If Classical Candor gave out awards for Best Recordings of the Year, this release of late-Mozart clarinet works would surely be high on the list of contenders. It is an almost perfect realization of the composer's music in equally felicitous recorded sound. I haven't listened to anything so charming in quite some time.

In the first number on the disc, Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A major, K622, virtuoso clarinetist Sharon Kam plays the solo part and leads the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonic. Written in 1791, the year Mozart died, the Clarinet Concerto was probably his last completed work. Needless to say, it is a mature composition, displaying all of the man's talents for melody, harmony, versatility, meditation, merriment, and delight. An advantage to Ms. Kam's realization, besides being one of the most well-thought-out and appealing versions available, is that she plays it on a basset clarinet, the instrument for which Mozart wrote the piece. At the time Mozart composed the work, the clarinet was just coming into its own, a relatively new instrument in the orchestra, and the basset clarinet was an early example of same. It is a period instrument capable of a lower register than the modern clarinet, and Ms. Kam demonstrates its rich, mellow sonority to the fullest. As the Clarinet Concerto contains any number of plush, fluid passages, the basset clarinet pays them due respect.

With Ms. Kam the Clarinet Concerto sings. From the rhapsodic tranquility of the first movement through the sweet, wistful, melancholic flow of the second movement to the energetic playfulness of the finale, Ms. Kam and the Haydn Philharmonic are in complete accord with the material, producing a warm, elegant, refined, and moving interpretation. This performance is in every way the equal of several other notable recordings, like the classic one from Jack Brymer (EMI) or more-recent ones on basset clarinet from Richard Hosford (ASV), Thea King (Hyperion), and Michael Collins (DG). Yes, Ms. Kam more than holds her own.

In the accompanying work, the Quintet for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola and Violoncello in A major, KV581 (1789), four other distinguished players join Ms. Kam: Isabelle van Keulen, violin; Ulrike-Anima Mathe, violin; Volker Jackobsen, viola; and Gustav Rivinius, violoncello. Their execution is wonderfully lyrical and relaxed and their playing ideal, with the resonant sound of the basset clarinet lending an agreeably vibrant sonority to the proceedings. Like everything else in the performance, the final variations are a joy.

The two recordings, made in 2009 and 2010, and thankfully done without the distractions of a live audience, could hardly sound better. We get sonics of a smooth, melted-butter variety that entirely befit the kind of music presented, the clarinet well integrated into the two ensembles rather than standing apart. While we do not find the clarity or presence of some audiophile recordings, we do hear the natural reproduction of the instruments in a pleasantly ambient acoustic. The clarinet, especially, radiates a mellifluous tone that is never at odds with the other players, a calming, reassuring tone that complements Ms. Kam's virtuosic yet wholly warmhearted performances. This is a welcome album from start to finish, among the best I've heard this year.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa