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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 [32:27]
Rondo in A, K581a (draft of the quintet; completed by Robert Levin) [5:50]
Allegro in B flat, K516c (completed by Robert Levin) [8:11]
Eight-bar fragment for clarinet and string quartet [0:42]
Allegro in F, K580b, for clarinet, basset horn, and string trio (completed by Franz Beyer) [12:48]
Colin Lawson (basset clarinet in A (Quintet, Rondo), basset clarinet in B flat (Allegro in B flat, fragment), clarinet in C (Allegro in F)); Michael Harris (basset horn (Allegro in F))
The Revolutionary Drawing Room
rec. 3-5 March 2012, All Saints, East Finchley, London

This disc of Mozart’s chamber music for clarinet is more than a historical curiosity. It includes four fragmentary works which he wrote for clarinet and strings, three of them in completions by others and one a tantalisingly pretty forty-second fragment. The Revolutionary Drawing Room plays on period instruments, and so do clarinetist Colin Lawson and basset horn player Michael Harris. The booklet contains a photograph of the three clarinets used, and the weirdly bent basset clarinet in A is especially fascinating to behold. Oh, and the playing is good too.
The biggest draw here is the fragmentary odds and ends: you’ve probably never heard this eight-bar fragment for clarinet and string quartet, which is unbearably intriguing. It practically cries out for a fuller treatment; what genius lays just behind the ending? I suppose if I ever take those composition lessons I’ve been eying, this could be an excellent subject for theme-and-variations. In the case of three other fuller, better-developed fragments, we have completions: Franz Beyer tidied up an allegro in F major which uses both clarinet and basset horn, and acclaimed keyboard player, improviser, and scholar Robert Levin finished two very substantial manuscripts, one of them using detective work and jotted-down clues from other sources. All of these are superb, and while there is a natural inclination to ask, “What would Mozart have done?”, nobody can be dissatisfied with the results. How many people who’ve tried to complete Mozart’s thoughts have done so with as deep an understanding as Robert Levin?
Thus, impressively, the quintet takes up only about half the disc, and even more impressively, the cover is accurate when it says this CD contains a world premiere recording of Mozart! Even without the quintet it would have been a worthwhile album, but this is a fine performance of the mainstay, too. True, there are more sensitive and more exquisitely rendered versions: in recent years, Martin Fröst and Pascal Moraguès have brought extraordinary lightness and beauty to the larghetto, which Colin Lawson can’t quite match. But you’re compromising very little here, and the period-instrument sound will be an attraction for many.
With very fine sound quality and a personal essay note by Colin Lawson, this is a fascinating peek at Mozart’s clarinet music: that is, the clarinet music you’ve never before heard. I do wish there was a bit more annotation on the instruments - the basset horn gets left out of the group photo - and I’m aware that the performance of the quintet is very good but maybe not Great, and yet I’m very glad to have this CD. The fragmentary odds and ends are delights all, fascinating examples of what might have been. A great album for all Mozart lovers.
Brian Reinhart