Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A, K622; Clarinet Quintet in A, K581

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WORKS: Clarinet Concerto in A, K622; Clarinet Quintet in A, K581
PERFORMER: Martin Fröst (basset clarinet, clarinet); Vertavo Quartet, Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Peter Oundjian
This is an obvious but satisfying pairing of Mozart’s two late masterworks for his friend Anton Stadler. In the Concerto, Martin Fröst plays a basset clarinet with the extra low notes of Mozart’s presumed original version (now lost), and succeeds in getting them unusually well in tune. His light, lively approach to the outer movements and his inward but not over-solemn reading of the Adagio are well matched by the chamber-sized Amsterdam orchestra; only some of his whispered pianissimos seem overdone. The CD recording (with an alternative surround-sound SACDlayer) is just about ideal in stereo. Unfortunately the Quintet is less well served by an acoustic which seems to cover everything in a velvet blanket. And, although the performance has some lovely playing by both clarinet and strings, it occasionally sounds a little precious, as if everyone is walking on eggshells. Sometimes, as in the second trio of the minuet, a waltz is simply a waltz.


Despite these reservations, this is a recommendable issue. But in this coupling many will prefer the broader and more traditional approach of Thea King and her colleagues on a tried and trusted Hyperion disc. And, in a straight comparison of the Concerto, Fröst just loses out to the slightly greater spontaneity and sparkle of Sabine Meyer’s second, live recording, with the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado – originally issued in a delectable programme with clarinet works by Debussy and Takemitsu, but now also available in a more conventional anthology of Mozart wind concertos. Anthony Burton