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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Quintets Vol. 5

Quintet for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello, in A major, KV 581
Quintet for horn, violin, 2 violas and cello, in E flat major, KV 407
Ensemble Villa Musica
Ulf Rodenhauser (clarinet)
Radovan Vlatkovic (horn)
Recorded at Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen, 26-28 November 2003, DDD

The term ‘masterwork’ is overused in classical music circles and I am as guilty as anyone! However where references to Mozart’s Quintet for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello, in A major, KV 581 are concerned the description ‘masterwork’ is extremely apt. In 1977 for a BBC Radio 4 programme the famous English tenor Peter Pears selected this Quintet as his second favourite classical work of all time. Pears waxed lyrical about it stating that there was to be found "a serenity of the most extraordinary order, heavenly we call it (‘we’ being a likely reference to Pears and his lifelong partner Benjamin Britten), but it’s not a dull heaven, it’s a wonderful, a reassuring heaven which one can’t have enough of ... The world and heaven, where do they join? They join in music."

Known to be particularly fond of the clarinet, Mozart wrote his KV 581 in 1789 for the clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler. Stadler also provided Mozart with inspiration for the famous Concerto KV 622, the Clarinet Trio KV 498 ’Kegelstatt’ and most likely for the unfinished Quintet for Clarinet, Basset-horn and String Trio KV 90 (560b). Mozart actually composed his clarinet works for a basset-clarinet that Stadler had developed. This is a now obsolete instrument which extended the range of the clarinet by four half-tones into the bass region.

The Quintet KV 581 was composed at the time of arguably Mozart’s greatest artistic productivity. He had recently completed his opera Don Giovanni, the D major Piano Concerto ‘Coronation’ KV 537 and his mighty Symphonies 39, 40 and 41 ‘Jupiter’. He was also engaged in composing the three ‘Prussian’ Quartets and the opera Cosi Fan Tutte.

The role of the clarinet in KV 581 does not predominate or offer empty virtuosity. This is in fact a poignant and rather melancholy work. In this case we are treated to cultured and intelligent playing from the Ensemble Villa Musica. They capture the spiritual dimension in the famous second movement Larghetto with its glorious romantic-song over muted strings. The third movement Menuetto with its two trios is especially sensitively played. Ulf Rodenhauser, clarinet, gives a stylish and dramatic performance taking a tender and poetic line in the Larghetto.

There are competing versions of KV 581. My premier recommendations are the interpretation from the Hungarian based Danubius Quartet with Joszef Balogh (clarinet) on Naxos 8.550390 and an award-winning recording in the set of complete Mozart Quintets from the Talich Quartet with clarinettist Bohuslav Zahradnik on Calliope CAL 3231.3.

Mozart composed his Quintet KV 407 in 1782 around the time of his marriage to Constance Weber. Written for horn player Ignaz Leutgeb this is considerably lesser known compared to KV 581 but nonetheless remains a really excellent work; one of the hidden gems of the chamber repertoire.

The Horn Quintet, KV 407 has a distinctive melodic style as a result of the mellow timbre of the instrumentation. Critic Alfred Einstein has remarked that in the Quintet Mozart pokes fun at the limitations of the horn. You hear this especially in the outer movements, especially, for example, in the mocking fanfare of the Finale. For me the musicianship of the Ensemble Villa Musica is rich and refined and particularly successful in the deeply felt Andante. Horn player Radovan Vlatkovic gives a finely poised performance which is polished and characterful.

An alternative interpretation of the Quintet KV 407, worthy of consideration, is the version from the London-based Nash Ensemble on Virgin Classics 5 61448 2. This is much admired for its exceptionally fine playing and recorded sound.

The combination of the excellent performances and sound quality make this an extremely enjoyable and desirable release. Well worth adding to any collection!

Michael Cookson

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