Mozart: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet
WORKS: Clarinet Quintet, K581; String Quartet in A, K421
PERFORMER: Jörg Widmann (clarinet); Arcanto Quartet


The German clarinettist (and distinguished composer) Jörg Widmann plays the Mozart Quintet with smooth phrasing and beautifully pure tone. Unlike many players today, he sticks to the standard text on a standard-sized instrument, rather than adopting the basset clarinet, with extra low notes, for which the piece was originally written. Widmann is well matched tonally by the Arcanto Quartet, an ensemble of well-known soloists whose quality is revealed in the development of the first movement, where each instrument comes to the fore in turn. But their internal balance isn’t always ideal, with the lower strings sometimes obscuring Antje Weithaas’s delicate first violin; they should have retaken their untidy initial attack; and they puzzlingly change a forte marking to piano halfway through the last reprise of the minuet.

The Quintet is paired not with another clarinet work, but with one of Mozart’s set of string quartets dedicated to Haydn: the weighty D minor. Here, the Arcanto players carefully observe Mozart’s contrasts of loud and soft, for example between the fierce chords that end the first movement and the understated opening of the second, or between the stern minuet and the sweet trio. Their careful control of dynamics also helps to bring out the range and urgency of the variation finale. This is a refined and thoughtful performance.


Anthony Burton