WORKS: Clarinet Quintet in A, K581; Allegro in B flat, K516c
PERFORMER: Emma Johnson (clarinet), Gabor Takács-Nagy, Rebecca Hirsch (violin), Tim Boulton (viola), Andrew Shulman (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1079
Emma Johnson and friends have nothing original to say about these works. In general, their readings of clarinet quintets by Mozart and Weber sound like efficient, uneventful, occasionally dull, though normally congenial play-throughs. Johnson has a pleasingly modulated tone, efficient breath-control, and fingers nimble enough to meet the testing demands of the music. She’s joined by an ad-hoc team fronted by violinist Gabor Takács-Nagy, whose contribution stands head and shoulders above the rest, but isn’t sufficient of itself to elevate these offerings beyond the level of the routine.
In Mozart’s great K581, one always misses the valedictory element that should be so immediately palpable; there’s a disappointing ordinariness here, even about the finale’s lovely variations. The Weber Quintet has more fire and passion, but even so, this account has little to commend it above a kind of baseline technical proficiency.
Fortunately, the catalogues are bulging with many distinguished alternatives (including a superior budget reading of the Mozart from József Balogh and the Danubius Quartet on Naxos) so you can confidently overlook this newcomer. My long-standing preference in K581 remains the superlative Astrée Auvidis recording by Wolfgang Meyer and the Mosaïques Quartet, a performance which never fails to move me deeply with its masterful eloquence and rapturous pathos. The Weber Quintet (which sits more happily in any case beside Brahms, rather than Mozart) is brilliantly played by Richard Stoltzman and the Tokyo Quartet (RCA), while Charles Neidich and L’Archibudelli (Sony Vivarte) afford fascinating periodist insights for those preferring the sound of original instruments. Michael Jameson