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CD: AmazonUK
Download: Classicsonline

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Mozart Wind Collection
CD 1
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 (1791) [28.05]
Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat major, K495 (1787) [16.17]
Divertimento for Strings in D major, K136 (1772) [17.37]
CD 2
Flute Concerto No.1 in G major, K313 (1778) [23.14]
Oboe Concerto in C major, K314 (1778) [19.10]
Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K191 (1774) [17.04]
Michael Whight (clarinet); Martin Owen (horn); Andrew Nicholson (flute); John Anderson (oboe); Daniel Jemison (bassoon)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Cleobury
rec. 19-20 January 2005 and 12-13, 23 April 2005, Henry Wood Hall, London and Cadogan Hall, London. DDD
ROYAL PHILHARMONIC RPO SP 005 [61.59 + 60.02]
Experience Classicsonline

This double CD set should be re-named “The Selective Mozart Wind Collection”. It features the core of the woodwind concertos, only one of the horn concertos and bizarrely includes Divertimento for Strings, when the Sinfonia Concertante, one of the Wind Serenades or even the Flute and Harp Concerto would have been a better choice to fill up the second disc. The programme notes justify its inclusion as marking a composition from the start of Mozart’s life to balance the Clarinet Concerto, one of his final complete works. 
The last of the wind concertos that Mozart wrote was the Clarinet Concerto. It is directed here by the soloist Michael Whight from his basset clarinet. This results in clear crisp textures throughout the concerto with attention to detail and unified articulation in the ensemble. Once Whight begins he executes all the runs with control, and there is never a feeling of being hurried. The music demands a playful character and perhaps there could be more cheekiness teased from the orchestra. Intonation issues arise, particularly in the lowest register, although these coincide with moments where the orchestra overpower the soloist. This doesn’t detract from the overall chamber quality that Whight achieves.

The Adagio is taken at a faster tempo than other recordings, but this creates a sense of purpose and direction and the movement moves like a majestic stately dance rather than a dirge. For a slower middle movement and excellent tone and phrasing I would recommend David Shifrin’s Mozart (Delos, 1984). Whight draws on the clarinet’s capacity for very quiet playing in a wonderfully controlled and sustained pianissimo repeat of the opening theme. The orchestra have a chance to shine in the Rondo, especially in the horns where they have some tricky high entries. The finale movement trots along at a perfectly judged tempo, with enough space for clarity and lyrical tone in the basset clarinet yet whilst keeping the boisterous dance-like character in the orchestra.

Of the four Mozart concertos for horn, the Fourth is probably the most famous, due to the iconic 1954 recording by Dennis Brain, Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia, now re-mastered and available from EMI Classics. This recording is utterly sublime in every way and it would take something very special for the Brain performance to be knocked from the top spot. Martin Owen puts in a valiant effort and is technically in control of the music, but at times it feels as if he is simply trying too hard. In the first movement in particular his tone is forced in the loud sections. The overall tempo is a touch fast to be Allegro Maestoso, and both the orchestra and the soloist sound scrappy and untidy in their pursuit of a buoyant tempo. Owen includes his own cadenza, which is long, disjointed and rather un-Mozartian. For an incredibly satisfying cadenza, other than Brain’s, I would look towards Radovan Vlatković (Royal Classics, 1995). The Andante cantabile is poised, featuring some subtle dynamic shading and is set at a good tempo to keep the music moving forward.

Flanders and Swan’s Ill Wind propelled the Rondo: Allegro Vivace movement of this concerto into the public arena in 1964, and it is hard to listen without wanting to sing along. The orchestra sparkle with some fantastically energetic countermelodies, but sometimes Owen’s tone is a little heavy, and too often he opts for longer articulation compared to the fore mentioned Dennis Brain recording, or the lightness of touch of David Pyatt (Maestro, 2008).

The Divertimento is pleasant enough in its simple, charming melodies. It is often scored for string quartet and this is felt in the slow movement where the second violins and violas have a chance to shine. The final movement has most character with a nice sense of urgency in the first violins in particular. The work does feel completely out of place in terms of style, genre and musical language amongst the wind concertos. If the RPO wished to showcase one of Mozart’s works composed in Salzburg around 1772 then perhaps the Fifth Piano Concerto (1773) or one of the symphonies would have been a more suitable choice.

Despite Mozart’s lack of enthusiasm for the flute, Andrew Nicholson’s performance of the first Flute Concerto is authoritative from the outset. This technically challenging work is beautifully light and controlled throughout with restrained use of vibrato. Again the Royal Philharmonic play with crystal clear textures and Nicholas Cleobury’s direction results in great interplay between soloist and orchestra. The Adagio is very much a piece of serene and elegant chamber music and there is a real understanding between the orchestral winds and the solo flute. The slightly repetitive nature of the Rondo is perhaps a sign of Mozart’s reluctance to complete the commission, but Nicholson injects plenty of character and humour with subtle and well-judged embellishments, especially in the final cadenza.

Mozart’s Oboe Concerto bounces along due to some well-selected tempi from Nicholas Cleobury. There is always a sense of agreement between orchestra and soloist in terms of phrasing and attack, although the orchestra does tend to overpower Anderson’s delicately crafted melodic line. In the first movement particularly the sound of clicking oboe keys gets in the way of some wonderful phrasing. Anderson wrote his own cadenzas in this recording and although the leaps in the fast passages in the first cadenza are impressive and demonstrate his virtuosity, there are rather long in relation to the rest of the movement. During Mozart’s time it was thought that a wind soloist or singer should be able to perform their cadenza in only one breath and I think any oboist would be hard pushed to get through Anderson’s first cadenza with so little oxygen. The Adagio non troppo sees some well handled ornaments, which in other performances run the risk of being overly fussed yet Anderson never loses the sense of musical impetus. His second cadenza displays his prowess in the top register of his instrument, which can be perilous for intonation, and the Rondo shows a fine technical display.

In what is to be believed as the only surviving Bassoon Concerto of five written by Mozart, Daniel Jemison takes up the opportunity to use rubato to give the music, and the listener, a chance to breathe. In the low register his tone is exquisitely fruity, especially in the Allegro. The programme notes do not state who wrote the cadenzas, but if Jemison did pen the cadenza of the first movement then he indulged himself a little too much, although there are other artists that have taken theirs further (Gunter Piesk, EMI Classics, 1987 Digital Re-master). The sound of key clicks distract the listener, something that the sound engineers could have eliminated. There are some beautiful moments for the oboes in the second movement, and the horns do a sterling job of the tricky high parts throughout the concerto. The soloist takes great care over every note in the Andante and it is almost as if he is singing through his bassoon. All technical challenges are overcome with ease in the Rondo, and this is a fitting end to the box set.

The four woodwind concertos are generally good, in particular the Bassoon Concerto. It is a shame the clicking of the keys in the double reed works couldn’t be removed in the final production. Martin Owen’s performance is pleasant yet will never be able to replace Dennis Brain from my shelf. The Royal Philharmonic and Nicholas Cleobury do all of the works in this boxed set proud. A sense of ensemble and clarity is always present despite some moments where the orchestra overpower the soloist, in the clarinet and oboe concertos. But one would never buy a collection of concertos based on the strength of the orchestra.

Sabrina Pullen



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