> Mozart works for basset-clarinet K617030 [GPJ]: Classical Reviews- April 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Clarinet Quintet in A K581
Clarinet Concerto in A K622
Jean-Claude Veilhan, basset-clarinet, Stadler Quartet, La Grande Ecurie et le Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
Recorded Paris 1989 (concerto) and 1992 (quintet)
K617 Records K617030


Experience Classicsonline

The basset-clarinet is not to be confused with the basset-horn, though they are closely related. The latter is really a type of alto clarinet, midway between the normal clarinet and the bass, while the former is simply a clarinet with an extension downwards of several semitones, for which Mozart is believed to have conceived the two great masterpieces on this disc.

Specific differences to the normally heard versions of the works are not that noticeable, though they are in fact quite numerous; in the first movement of the quintet, for example, there is the passage of quaver figuration in the clarinet part that starts at 5:36, where several of the lowest notes would be outside the range of the clarinet. Similarly, in the concerto, there is the section at 2:58, where once again, notes lower than the normal range are heard. There is a pleasing logic in all of these adjustments, and they in no way alter the familiar course of the music.

On the other hand, the tone that Jean-Claude Veilhan produces may be less acceptable to many ears. There is no doubting that he is an accomplished and highly musical player, but his basset clarinet has a slightly throaty quality, and doesn’t sing with the mellifluous ease that modern ears are used to. Tone is not as even, either; one is occasionally slightly uncomfortably aware of shifts in register. For me, this was not a great problem, but others may find it so.

Certainly the music is given performances of great character. Tempi in the quintet are on the brisk side, though the larghetto retains its tranquillity, and the menuetto has the benefit of an urgent sense of forward movement. The concerto suffers from a rather idiosyncratic recording. The acoustic is boxy, and the microphone(s) is(are) very close, with practically no balance distinction between soloist and orchestra. This takes a bit of getting used to, but I found it grew on me, especially as the quality of playing in the small accompanying ensemble is generally of high quality. More worrying is the seeming clumsiness of the basset-clarinet as compared with the clarinet. Many passages of intricate figuration sound distinctly awkward in Veilhan’s hands, detracting from the elegance of the work. I don’t believe that this is lack of sensitivity or technique on his part, however, more in the nature of the longer, heavier instrument.

But these are performances worth hearing, if only for the unusual experience of the instrument for which this music was originally intended.
Gwyn Parry-Jones


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