Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 (1789) [32:39]
Bedrich SMETANA (1824 - 1884)
String Quartet No.1 in E minor, Aus meinem Leben (1876) [30:16]
Simon Löffelmann (clarinet), Hölderlin Quartet (Ralph Kulling, Thomas Haug (violins), Bojidar Dobrev (viola), Christoph Bieber (cello))
rec. 18 - 20 March 1990, Filderhalle, Leinfelden Echterdingen, Kammermusiksaal DDD
EDITION HERA 02122 [62:56]
This is a strange coupling, one of Mozart’s sunniest inspirations with Smetana’s nihilistic, autobiographical 1stQuartet. Not only is the coupling unusual but so is the performance of the Mozart Quintet. The members of the Hölderlin Quartet obviously see this work as a romantic composition, and they play it with full tone and long bows. It’s all rather robust, and there’s little of a Mozartean feel to be found in the performance. By this, I mean that you don’t have to perform music of this period on instruments of the day, with all the usual things which accompany “original” performances, for you can play a Mozart Symphony with a larger orchestra if the interpretation has style. And it’s that style which I find lacking here. This approach would suit the Brahms or Reger Clarinet Quintets so well, but, for me, it’s all too big and romantic.
Smetana’s Quartet, on the other hand, is perfect for the Hölderlin Quartet’s rich and romantic approach. From the opening attack, and with the most subtle use of rubato, the music is nervous and unsettled. There is a real tension in the air and this isn’t going to be an easy listen. The folk dance of the scherzo has a nice weight to it, and, together with lots of rubato, it appears fresh and rustic. The Largo sostenuto is, by turns, dramatic and winsome. I was particularly impressed with the quiet, sustained playing the Quartet achieved in the coda. The finale starts as all gaiety until the fateful moment when the high pitch, which Smetana constantly heard in his head, bursts in - a bold stroke here for the Quartet stops and there is a long pause before the devastation is wrought; Smetana’s, and our, lives are shattered by this intrusion into our private thoughts and feelings. The ending is restrained and emotional. Despite this, the performance ultimately fails to engage and communicate with me.
With my hand on my heart I cannot recommend this recording because of the odd coupling and the fact that the performances simply don’t excite and satisfy. The Smetana is better served by the Hollywood Quartet’s 1955 recording (Testament SBT 1072, coupled with Kodaly’s 2nd and Dvorak’s American Quartets in very good sound) and the 1928 recording by the Bohemian Quartet (not available at the moment) will take some beating. The Mozart Quintet has over 100 recordings so there’s an interpretation for everyone, my favourites being Gervase de Peyer, both with the Amadeus Quartet on either Deutsche Grammophon (437646, coupled with Karl Leister playing the Brahms Quintet) or BBC Legends (BBCL 4061, a live performance from the Aldeburgh Festival in 1966).
I cannot recommend this recording.