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Richard Birchall • Mozart: Clarinet Concerto etc

Michael Collins (clarinet); Wigmore Soloists; Philharmonia Orchestra/Robin O’Neill (BIS)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Richard Birchall • Mozart
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto; Clarinet Quintet; Richard Birchall: Clarinet Concerto
Michael Collins (clarinet); Wigmore Soloists; Philharmonia Orchestra/Robin O’Neill
BIS BIS-2647 (CD/SACD)   81:37 mins

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Until recently, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Quintet were generally played on the ‘A’ instrument (rather than the standard B-flat clarinet). However, the works were originally intended for the basset clarinet, a member of the clarinet family favoured by Mozart’s friend Anton Stadler. Having already recorded the concerto using both the de-facto clarinet (DG) and the basset (Chandos), Collins gives the old war horse another trot around the paddock in this glorious new album, released to coincide with the clarinettist’s 60th-birthday celebrations. As clarinettist-conductor, Collins leads the Philharmonia in a particularly ravishing Rondo.

In the Quintet, Collins is joined by newly formed ensemble Wigmore Soloists, the crème de la crème of chamber players who in this beautifully produced interpretation take the much-loved piece to new heights. Collins elicits a delicious, resonant tone throughout; the clarinet is never upstaged by its string quartet partner.

The basset (not to be confused with the bass clarinet) is having a belated comeback. Clarinettist-composer Mark Simpson is a keen supporter (he commissioned Simon Holt’s Joy Beast), Thomas Adès gave it a starring role in Alchymia and now Richard Birchall adds his colourful concerto to the repertoire. Written specially for Collins, Birchall’s concerto takes its inspiration from Escher’s endless staircases and, perhaps, the Schumanns’ love of ciphers: the first clarinet motif features the sequence E flat – C – B – E, which in German notation spells out Es – C – H – E. The lyrical second movement culminates in a virtuosic finale; Collins dazzles in the snappy, spiralling melodies.

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Claire Jackson