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Johann SOBECK (1831-1914)
Quintet op.9 in F major (1879) [19:22]
Quintet op.14 in G minor (1892) [20:27]
Quintet op.11 in E flat major (18??) [20:04]
Albert Schweitzer Quintett
rec. Hans Rosbaud Studio, Baden-Baden, 17-19 January 2005
CPO 777 203-2 [60:40] 

Not a great deal of detail is available on the life of Johann Sobeck, but the booklet notes outline pretty much all of the highlights. Born in Luditz near Karlsbad, he was a clarinet virtuoso, studying that instrument and composition at the Prague Conservatory. He did a variety of concert tours, was held in high regard as a teacher, and held the post of principal clarinettist at the Royal Theatre in Hanover for a good fifty years. 

Most of Sobeck’s compositional work has been lost, and of what remains there is of course a great deal for the clarinet. There are four wind quintets in total, which makes me wonder why the remaining 20 minutes on this CD couldn’t have been filled with the 1897 fourth quintet. The three on this disc are all in a conventional four movement pattern and of consistent 20 minute length, which is also usual for this period. Of the excursions into musical experiment which Sobeck employs, few are likely to stand out to the casual listener – the overall impression I get from the earlier opus numbers is an irrepressible good humour and joie de vivre which even seems to carry over to the slower movements. Sobeck’s expertise as a wind player is apparent in his effortless combination of colour and voicing, the instruments being treated with perfectly idiomatic writing. The upper winds and bassoon all receive plenty of virtuoso passagework, and even the more restricted horn is provided with its fair share of melodic contribution. As the music unfolds you also get an impression of Sobeck’s inventiveness. There is no transitional chugging, and plenty of variety in the harmonic and thematic landscape, and no repetitious padding anywhere to be heard.

The minor tonality of Quintet op.14 reaches a little deeper than the other two, and touches of melancholy affect the more sparing writing in movements such as the second Andante piu tosto/Adagio. Even here however, wit and charm are never very far away, and there are some nice little syncopated kicks in the accompaniment in the latter part of the movement, which runs directly into the third Scherzino/Presto

The members of the Albert Schweitzer Quintett are skilled advocates of this music, and the recorded sound is well up to CPO’s high standards. This is repertoire which is full of fun and which deserves recognition. All concerned are to be congratulated on a fine production.

Dominy Clements


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