WORKS: Clarinet Quintet in A, K581
PERFORMER: David Shifrin (clarinet); Emerson String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 459 641-2
It’s a pity that the order of the two works wasn’t reversed, as the first movement of the Mozart is by far the least convincing part of this CD. The vibrato-rich sound of the Emerson Quartet, with its traces of old-fashioned portamento, sounds too treacly to modern ears. And all the players have a tendency to linger over stressed notes, which makes the rhythm lop-sided: the way that Shifrin caresses the second subject is more coercive than expressive, even though his tone is smooth, and his breath control effortless. But things improve in the second movement, where the pulse is steadier, and there is better attention to dynamics and balance. Basic tempi are well chosen, though I could do without the minor key section in the last movement being quite as slow.
The whole sound and approach is much better suited to the Brahms, with its thicker, more vibrant string textures, and here the rubato seems organic rather than artificial. In the second movement the quartet finds a lovely muted sound, even if the central section needs to be more disturbed and disturbing – but the third movement intermezzo is charming, and the individual variations in the finale well characterised. Martin Cotton