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Joy & Desolation

Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet); Tesla Quartet (Orchid Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Joy & Desolation
Corigliano: Soliloquy; Finzi: Five Bagatelles; C Heredia: Ius in Bello; Mozart: Clarinet Quintet
Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet); Tesla Quartet
Orchid Classics ORC 100106   63:38 mins

Rather than splitting hairs on whether the Mozart Clarinet Quintet is really joyful, let’s leapfrog over this album’s slightly misleading title and note that Fiterstein and the Tesla Quartet have assembled an unusual programme of highly contrasted works that is very effective. Finzi’s Bagatelles are subtle and many-shaded pieces, rich in harmony and quietly engaging; John Corigliano’s Soliloquy is a searingly emotional work written in 1995 in memory of the composer’s late father. Carolina Heredia’s Ius in Bello, which dates from 2014, is a politically-inspired work (the title means ‘law of war’) driven primarily by events in Venezuela, but it works convincingly as ‘pure’ music.

The performances sometimes live up to their promise. Both the contemporary pieces are well served, the ensemble finely navigating their pace, offering plenty of colour and achieving maximum tension in the agonising Soliloquy. The Mozart, though, suffers from an imbalance between the unshakable clarinet and the wispy first violin – one suspects from conflicting interpretations rather than the placement of microphones. Imagine the line of a blue felt pen beside that of a 2H pencil. It is fine to play Mozart in what might for some reason be considered an idiomatic 18th-century style without any strength of tone, but not if a strong modern clarinettist is doing strong modern clarinet playing alongside. This performance remains as a whole rather earthbound. The Finzi is more convincing and is presented with a more homogeneous tone, but here the two violinists have switched places. Sound recording is warm and clear.

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Jessica Duchen