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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K 622 (1791) [32:22]
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K 183 (1773) [24:25]
Peter Schmidl (clarinet)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Leonard Bernstein
Director: Humphrey Burton
rec. Konzerthaus, Vienna, 1-2 September 1987 (concerto), Grosser Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, 1-4 October 1988 (symphony).
Sound formats PCM Stereo, DD5.1, DTS 5.1.
Picture format NTSC 4:3.
Disc format DVD 5.
Region code 0 (all regions).
EUROARTS 2072088 [58:52]

Bernsteinís approach to Mozartís Clarinet Concerto is lithe and flexible, smooth but also lightly articulated with a dancing pulse to the first movement introduction, graced by glowing horns and golden-toned strings. Soloist Peter Schmidl, then principal clarinettist with the Vienna Philharmonic, is a fitting match in smoothness and fluency, yet as soon as the melancholy arrives with the second solo passage (tr. 2 3:31) heís also soulful through just a touch more poise without any overall loss of momentum. The fermata, those short pauses for soloist embellishment (5:18 and 11:52), are simply and tastefully decorated. The coloratura style passages - e.g. from 6:01 - are striking enough without being riotous. The only limitation is that Schmidl uses a standard clarinet rather than the basset clarinet for which the concerto was originally written. This is preferable, not only because the range of notes available downwards is extended by 4 semitones, but also because the overall tone colour is thereby darkened. One example where lower notes would likely have been used is at tr. 1 7:31, where Sharon Kam using a basset clarinet in the DVD I refer to below displays them (her tr. 3 14:03).
Schmidlís slow movement is a soft-grained mellifluous song, relaxed yet still flowing, the second section of the opening melody of especially melting tone (tr. 3 15:04 in continuous timing). In the central section there are again passages which would be enhanced by the lower register of the basset clarinet - e.g. at 17:25, 17:43 (as shown by Kam at her tr. 4 22:53, 23:08). But Schmidlís sotto voce return of the opening melody is rapt with sympathetically assenting strings and the coda serenely expressive.
The rondo finale is light and deft, notable for its refinement, wistfully savoured, as if Schmidl and Bernstein are dwelling on this being Mozartís last instrumental work. The relaxation of the first episode (tr. 4 23:34) seems to set this mood. The basset clarinet register is preferable at 25:56 (cf. Kam at her tr. 5 30:23).
I compared the 2006 DVD by Sharon Kam and the Czech Philharmonic/Manfred Honeck (Euroarts 2055158). Here are the comparative timings:


Schmidl and Bernstein, then, are consistently more expansive, Kam and Honeck more animated. With Honeck the emphasis is on vibrant counterpoint and cleaner, more incisive orchestral sound. Kam conveys both energy and lyricism, if not quite the soulfulness of Schmidl. Bernstein finds more humour in the orchestral introduction and vertical clarity throughout, whereas Honeckís thrust is focused on horizontal clarity. Bernstein therefore shapes the sound more dramatically. The outcome is that with Bernstein one feels the orchestra is a key ingredient in the expression, even if the sonority at times goes beyond the classical proportions Honeck scrupulously maintains. Thereís also a sense of dancing agility from Schmidl, partly because he moves around even more than most clarinettists. A moment of sheer fun too, as he smiles as he ornaments the leap between two notes (tr. 2 8:30).
In the slow movement thereís something strangely attractive about the pure tone of Schmidl contrasting with the rich, warm and full-toned orchestra. Yet Bernstein knows when to reduce that tone, for maximum effect, accompanying Schmidlís sotto voce return of the opening theme. Honeckís leaner orchestral tone is more historically aware but his faster tempo sounds comparatively forced, the tension arising from working at producing the lilting opening, so there isnít the feel of inevitable flow of song that Schmidl and Bernstein catch. Honeckís approach is more suited to the finale which he and Kam present crisp and lively, quite bubbling, and yet also with good use of the basset clarinetís lower register in the second episode, as mentioned earlier. Schmidl and Bernstein show more lightness of touch, blossoming from time to time but always returning to a manner of blithely dancing gaiety. Appreciation of their performance is enhanced by seeing it. This is unabashed, joyous music-making.
Symphony No. 25 is Mozartís first symphonic masterpiece, unmatched in tragic foreboding and contrasting consolation until his other symphony in G minor, No. 40. Bernstein presents its first movement in quite a lean sound, stimulating and emphatic in its agitation but expansive enough to allow the oboe solo version of the opening theme (tr. 5 33:40) a wanly sympathetic, poetic calming effect within the strict frame. The hornsí rapid imitative response at 34:05 to the first violinsí second theme is given full sonority but the second violins imitating the first violins from 34:18 might be a little clearer before both excitingly join in cascades at 34:34. The stark development is becalmed by another poignant oboe solo and then pitying upper stringsí reflection, nicely gauged. The second half of the movement isnít repeated.
The slow movement, a reasonably flowing Andante from Bernstein, features winsome muted violins and warm bassoons in tow. Itís tender, sweet and delicate. The clouds that appear in the second section are comfortingly dispelled. Bernsteinís Minuet is quite slow and stern, rigorous, a Minuet of declamation yet with neat dynamic contrasts too. The Trio, for 2 oboes, 2 bassoons and 2 horns, is here presented as an idyll in G major in its own leisurely time. In the finale itís back to declamation and more severe because pacier. Yet there are lighter moments, like the first violinsí brief, lilting second theme (tr. 8 52:38) before the full orchestra onslaught. The second half of this movement isnít repeated.
I compared the 1978 DVD of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Karl BŲhm (Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4132). Here are the comparative timings:

3:23 (6:46)
22:13 (25:36)

In the first movement BŲhm obtains a tenser string sound, a melodious but less calming, more tragic oboe solo, clearer interplay between first and second violins and stricter stringsí cascades and measure generally of formidable concentration and Olympian objectivity. His countenance remains aloof. Bernstein, on the other hand, provides a gallery of facial expressions as he relishes the workís power, drama and contrast, with charm in full measure and a winking grace given the second part of the second theme (tr. 5 34:49). BŲhm is recorded in a moderate sized unnamed palatial chamber and his approach is similarly classically contained. Bernstein demonstrates the main hall of the Musikvereinís more opulent sonority is fitting for the magnitude of this work and takes full advantage of the four horns Mozart calls for. His stringsí cascades are more thrilling.
Though BŲhmís slow movement looks faster, in fact itís slightly slower as he makes no repeats whereas Bernstein repeats both halves. The exact comparative timings Iíve therefore given in brackets above. BŲhm presents it with pristine simplicity, sweet and lilting but Bernstein is lighter and more tender, revealing more density, more nuance to the harmony, as well a particular delight in the violinsí demisemiquaver and semiquaver passages (the first at. tr. 6 42:07) towards the end of both sections.
BŲhmís Minuet is stately with firm articulation, his Trio slightly faster but equally precise, almost abstract. Bernstein is more flexible, his Minuet imposing yet not so heavy, with a more dramatic pulse yet notably lighter shading of the quieter second phrase and the later quiet passages as if the tragic and hopeful are vying. His slower Trio has room to breathe and blossoms.
BŲhmís finale starts steadily, saving its bursts of fire for the passages in which Mozart adds the wind instruments. The second theme is elegant. Bernstein is lighter, swifter, again more contrasted in mood, more energetic than tragic. He makes the second theme really dance as he shimmies with it, a fleeting, happy interlude. Again the DVD enhances appreciation of the interpretation. By seeing how involved in the musicís every turn Bernstein is, you become more involved in his performance. Bernsteinís view of Mozart is essentially an early romantic one, Beethoven-like with an emphasis on Viennese glow, but itís very persuasive, revealing a greater range of mood and dimension than the lucidly classical approach. The performances on this DVD are available on CD (Deutsche Grammophon 4292212). In either format the sound is crisp and vivid, though the surround sound available on the DVD is slightly airier. The CD also includes Symphony No. 29, which makes it a more generous full price issue than this DVD, but this is the Clarinet Concertoís first appearance on DVD.
Michael Greenhalgh


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