ALBUM TITLE: The Mozart Album
WORKS: Clarinet Concerto, K622; Clarinet Quintet, K581; Ave verum; opera arias (arr. Johnson/West)
PERFORMER: Emma Johnson (basset clarinet/director); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Contempo Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 987 3571
Returning to Mozart’s Concerto on disc more than 20 years after her first ASV recording, Emma Johnson opts for the basset clarinet for which the work was originally written, its extra low notes providing rich rewards in terms of sonority and logically shaped phrases. Her playing is fluent, with beautifully controlled soft passages; but – strangely, since she’s directing the performance herself – there’s a discrepancy between the RPO’s neat phrasing and her more expansive, legato approach. And some odd bulges and blemishes are magnified by a recording which blows up the soloist to larger than life size. There’s nothing here to budge me from my long-standing recommendation of Sabine Meyer’s live recording with the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado, fast and light but never superficial or showy.
The Quintet, again with basset clarinet, is better balanced; but there’s some very mannered playing by the strings, and the tempo runs away alarmingly in the first-movement development and the last variation of the finale. Preferable options in the coupling of Concerto and Quintet include Martin Fröst on BIS (reviewed November 2003), and Johnson’s one-time teacher Thea King on Hyperion. This verdict isn’t swayed by the addition of lively transcriptions of two opera arias, and certainly not by a glutinous quintet version of the Ave verum corpus. Anthony Burton