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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 (1791)
Sinfonia Concertante for in E flat major for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, K297b (c.1778) *
Sabine Meyer, basset clarinet, modern clarinet *
Diethelm Jonas, oboe *
Bruno Schneider, horn *
Sergio Azzolini, bassoon *
Staatskapelle Dresden/Hans Vonk
Recorded at Lukaskirche, Dresden, June 1990
Great Recordings of the Century series
EMI CLASSICS 66897 [56:18]


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Comparisons:

Clarinet Concerto (Prinz/Böhm/DG Ė Brymer/Davis/Philips)
Sinfonia Concertante (Orpheus/DG Ė Warren-Green/Virgin Classics)

The extensive "Great Recordings of the Century" series from EMI has included illustrious artists such as Bruno Walter, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dennis Brain and Yehudi Menuhin. The Mozart disc under review features Sabine Meyer and Hans Vonk, and nobody would claim that either of them has attained the great esteem afforded most other artists in the series. However, I can confidently state that their performances of the Clarinet Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante are among the best versions on record and fully deserving of the exalted status given by the folks at EMI.

Mozart composed his Clarinet Concerto just a few months before his death while he was also working on his Requiem. The Concerto was written for his good friend, the clarinettist Anton Stadler, and displays Mozart at the peak of his creative powers. The concise architecture, exceptional interaction between solo instrument and orchestra, and an abundance of inspired themes seem to wing their way to the listener on a non-stop basis. The work is considered Mozartís finest wind concerto, and Iíll take it further and declare it the best wind concerto in the entire world of classical music.

In addition to the traits mentioned above, Mozartís Clarinet Concerto has such great majesty and warmth from within that it melts oneís heart and offers a comfort uncommon in other musical works. For many years, my standard for the Clarinet Concerto has been the early 1970s Karl Böhm recording featuring Alfred Prinz and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Böhm uses slowish tempos that allow listeners to savor Mozartís music. The majesty and warmth his performing forces exude are absolutely sublime. If a quicker version is preferred, one need look no further than to the Philips recording conducted by Sir Colin Davis and featuring Jack Brymer on clarinet. This version isnít as comforting as the Böhm, but it does highlight the excitement of the outer movements.

Hans Vonk paces his performance in a manner similar to Davis, and both offer full-bodied interpretations. Any substantial difference is due to Sabine Meyerís playing a basset clarinet, which is the instrument that Mozart conceived for the work. Darker and rounder in tone than a modern clarinet, Meyer executes her role splendidly in bringing out both the exuberance and poignancy of the music. Although the Böhm version remains my favorite, Meyer and Vonk fully match the Davis recording.

A look at the history of the Sinfonia Concertante tells us once again that movies may be magic, but they arenít necessarily accurate with the facts. In the Academy Award winning movie "Amadeus", Mozart humiliates the Italian composer Salieri in front of the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by indulging himself in variations on a simple theme wrote by Salieri to greet Mozart. In real life, Mozart humiliated the ĎKingí of the Parisian Sinfonia, Giuseppe Maria Cambini, by inserting his own musical ideas into a Cambini quartet in court performance.

Although Cambini publicly praised Mozartís input, he did everything he could in private to make Mozartís residence in Paris an unpleasant one. When Mozart departed France, he left behind the score to the Sinfonia Concertante and it disappeared. Years later it re-emerged with authorship unclear.

Personally, I find it hard to not consider the work Mozartís, because it carries a host of his trademarks such as balance of architecture, exquisitely flowing lines, concise musical arguments, and a wealth of melodic invention. Further, the exceptional highlighting and interaction of the solo instruments in the 3rd Movement Andantino con variazioni, if not from the pen of Mozart, would have to be from his clone.

Sabine Meyer and Company again offer superb performances totally up to the standards of the lovingly warm Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the clean and exciting version from Warren-Green. Each of the three recordings conveys the rhythmic energy and bounce of the outer movements and the elegance and charm of the Adagio.

The EMI soundstage is perfectly balanced with ample richness and depth. If the coupling appeals, I canít think of a more rewarding set of performances than Sabine Meyerís that justly deserves its inclusion in EMIís "Great Recordings of the Century" series. Just keep in mind that Karl Böhmís recording of the Clarinet Concerto would rate some attention as perhaps the greatest recorded performance of the last century.

Don Satz

 



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