Mendelssohn, Mayr

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COMPOSERS: Mayr,Mendelssohn
LABELS: Crystal
WORKS: Konzertstücke for Clarinet, Basset-Horn & Piano in F minor, Op. 113; Konzertstücke for Clarinet, Basset-Horn & Piano in F minor in D minor, Op. 114
PERFORMER: Saeculum Aureum Players
Having adopted the pseudonym of Corno di Bassetto for his music criticism, George Bernard Shaw was disappointed to discover that the basset-horn was a ‘wretched instrument’ capable only of a ‘peculiarly watery melancholy’. In his notes for this disc, William McColl of the Seattle-based Saeculum Aureum Players argues that the revived instrument GBS knew, a smaller version of the bass clarinet, was nothing like the sharply angled basset-horn of Mozart’s time, ‘a mellow-toned low clarinet’ with a ‘haunting, hollow voice’. He proves his point, too, playing his own copy of an early 19th-century instrument and bringing out all its character and richness – as well as matching perfectly Richard Spece’s original 1820s clarinet. The pair duet to exhilarating effect in Mendelssohn’s two Concert Pieces, written for the father and son clarinettists Heinrich and Carl Baermann in exchange for some of Carl’s celebrated cooking; but Bonnie Garrett on a copy of a 1795 fortepiano sounds somewhat underpowered. The basset-horn also provides a firm bass line for flute (Jeffrey Cohan) and clarinet in the dozen Bagatelles by the opera composer Simone Mayr, charming but insubstantial trifles better heard a few at a time than in the disc’s continuous sequence of 43 minutes. Anthony Burton