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MOZART Clarinet Concerto Frost Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622 (1791) [27.38]
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 (1789) [36.00]
Martin Fröst, basset clarinet and clarinet
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Peter Oundjian, conductor
Vertavo String Quartet: Öyvor Volle, Berit Cardas, vv; Henninge Ladnaas, vla; Björg Værnes, vc.
Recorded at the Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht, Netherlands, April 2002.
Notes in English, Deutsch, and Français. Photos of soloist and quartet.
CD tracks, stereo 2.0. DSD SACD tracks, stereo 2.0 and surround 5.0.
Hybrid SACD playable on SACD players and cd players
BIS SACD 1263 [64.18]

Comparison Recordings:

Charles Neidich (concerto) Orpheus Chamber Orchestra DG 4233772
Charles Neidich (quintet) Mendelssohn Quartet Musical Heritage Soc. CD 5122258
Benny Goodman, Boston SO and Boston Quartet RCA LP LSC 2073
Peter Simenauer, Pascal String Quartet (quintet) Musical Masterpiece Soc. 10" LP 37

When I was first getting to know classical music I asked a friend who was known to be something of a Mozart fanatic which recording of the clarinet concerto I should buy to get to know the music. "Theyíre all good," he said, going on to explain that nobody plays this music who doesnít love it and canít play it well. Thatís a bit of an exaggeration, but does hold approximately true. Itís possible to play it soberly, precisely, and with dignity; or to play it with verve, fun, and a little freedom. Fortunately today most artists play the concerto using a "basset horn" with the correct range rather than transposing the music to fit a clarinet, as was done routinely in my day.

As to the music performing itself, it is certainly true that the scores of Mozart are so perfectly suited to the instruments and the style that tempo and timing vary hardly at all among the various versions. The music breathes so naturally that one hardly ever hears a "slow" or "fast" performance of anything by Mozart. Mr. Fröst plays with excellent tone, and great feeling and intelligence. His technique is gentle and very legato; he never presses the instrument into its metallic range. He is capable of magical pianissimos. His cadenzas have an odeur of Debussy about them, but at least there are cadenzas. He is a very pretty blue-eyed blonde boy and we gets lots of pictures of him, colour and B/W, from various angles. He receives excellent support from orchestra and quartet and superb recording from BIS, as we have come to expect. The Vertavo quartet has more fun with their part, put more of their heart into it, than any group Iíve ever heard play this music.

One looks forward to musicians with extensive experience playing jazz performing classical music with some of the improvisatory verve and impulsiveness which should inform authentic music-making of every age. Unfortunately, Benny Goodman (and, truth be told, Keith Jarrett) play classical music stiffly and with overly strict obeisance to academic tradition. Perhaps they feel they have something to prove. I included the Benny Goodman performance in the list above only because during most of the late middle 20th Century it was considered to be the finest version available; but I never cared for it. Now we have available on CD restorations of earlier performances by Goodman which may be more noteworthy. I have not had the chance to hear them but they may be worth looking up.

After everything, I still prefer the Charles Neidich performances by the thinnest of margins; theyíre a little less pretty and a little more dramatic. In spite of dated mono sound, the Simenauer performance of the quintet has brilliant and playful moments not likely ever to be bettered.

Oddly, this hybrid disk would not play as a CD on the Sony DVD ROM drive on my computer, but played fine on the Sony CD-RW drive on the same computer, and also played fine on my Emerson CD/MP-3 portable which on one previous occasion would not play a hybrid SACD. With various experiments in formats and copy protection under way these days, it is wise to test-play a new disk on any machine youíre likely ever to want to use before your dealerís exchange period expires.

This is real surround sound, not just some ambience in the rear speakers. As one would expect the multi channel SACD setting gives the best sound, with the two channel SACD second best. The CD tracks are quite good and the perspective will open up nicely on your Dolby surround processor.

Paul Shoemaker

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