Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A, K581; String Quartet in A, K464

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WORKS: Clarinet Quintet in A, K581; String Quartet in A, K464
PERFORMER: Janet Hilton (clarinet); Lindsay Quartet
This unusual and imaginative coupling provides an interesting opportunity to compare two chamber works which share not only the radiant key of A major but an intriguing ambivalence in mood. The performance of the String Quartet is excellent, with the four voices achieving exemplary balance throughout, always allowing the important lines to emerge from the texture. The reading of the Clarinet Quintet, though beautifully polished, leans heavily towards the lyrical side of the piece and is therefore rather one-dimensional in its emotional range. Janet Hilton plays with a voluptuous tone and brings a glowing, autumnal feel to the music, yet seems to miss its mercurial nature. It is surely as important to emphasise the amusing moments as well as the melancholy, for example in the first variation of the finale, where the absurdly wide leaps seem to be a joke at the expense of the dedicatee, Anton Stadler, and which in the performance by the Vienna Octet is genuinely humorous. Janet Hilton uses a standard instrument rather than the extended basset clarinet (incorrectly defined in the booklet) for which it was originally intended and this has important implications regarding both its range and subtly different acoustic properties. While her extremely rich and warm sound blends perfectly with the strings, the leaner sound made by the Vienna Octet’s Peter Schmidl enables the clarinet not only to meld but to make a greater contrast where appropriate. This new recording leaves one with a slight feeling of imbalance in a work which so perfectly demonstrates Mozart’s complex character. Tim Payne