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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Concerto in A, K. 622 [29:11]
Jörg WIDMANN (b. 1973)
Drei Schattentänze [7:58]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor [22:23]
Jörg Widmann (clarinet)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Peter Ruzicka
rec. 4 May 2013, Philharmonie Berlin (Mozart), 10-11 June, 2014, Grosser Saal Nalepastrasse (Weber), 9 March, 2015, Kleiner Sendesaal (Widmann)
ORFEO C897151A [59:32]

Jörg Widmann has become so well-known as a composer that I forgot he was a clarinetist, too. Here, he combines both jobs: Widmann plays the great Mozart and Weber concertos (on modern clarinet, not basset horn) and between them, adds a short work of his own. For listeners attuned equally to classical-era and contemporary music, this will be a delight. For those who prefer Mozart, the new piece may be a bit like the unpleasant surprises inside the truffles of Monty Python’s chocolate company routine.

All the performances are unfailingly very good, and I’m especially impressed with the way Peter Ruzicka and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester stay light on their feet, graceful and lively throughout the Mozart. It’s an energetic performance that also remains unfailingly beautiful … and the French horns add great warmth to the adagio, too. The Mozart is live, “completely without” any later sessions to dub over wrong notes; there are none.

Widmann is as good as we’d expect. Truthfully, it is rare to find a bad recording of the Mozart clarinet concerto these days; between Sabine Meyer (EMI), Martin Fröst (BIS), Michael Collins (Chandos), and no doubt others I’m forgetting, we are spoiled for choice. One thing which especially picky listeners might want to know is that the microphones are close enough to pick up some of the solo clarinet’s clicking keys.

Widmann’s own composition, Drei Schattentänze, will be a very rude surprise for any blue-haired old listener who just wants some nice pretty Mozart. This musical language is as far from Mozart as possible. The dances are astonishingly virtuosic — even just listening, I wonder how it’s possible for any human to play them, but that’s the awe a performer-composer aspires to. You might want to think of them as experiments with abstract sound-painting. The second movement uses spatial or electronic effects, in a way that the booklet does not describe, to evoke the idea of playing underwater. The finale, which begins as a series of percussive clicking noises, reaches a climax when Widmann stops playing and screams “Aaahhh!” instead. Perhaps this is what he means when he says, mysteriously, that this work explores “exciting new playing techniques”.

Then it’s back to Carl Maria von Weber, and depending on your taste, Weber will either be a bit boring after the solo stuff, or a merciful relief. Suffice to say that this is another very good performance, but if you’d like a full disc of Weber instead of a charming primal scream, try Martin Fröst on BIS.

Sound quality is good, with the aforementioned note about Widmann’s instrument. Despite the soloist being spotlit, the orchestra sounds superb, almost chamber-like. This CD is recommendable, especially if you’re intrigued by the new composition.

As a bonus, I’ll take a moment to comment on some other instances of human noises in music. The most famous, perhaps, is the shout of “Mambo!” which the orchestra supplies in West Side Story. Some obnoxiously stuck-up orchestras replace the shout with a lame drum roll, because they’re too dainty for yelling. Marc Minkowski recently supplied a bit of an extra surprise in his recording of the Haydn “Surprise” Symphony, when he added to the slow movement an unscripted “Aaaahh!” for the entire orchestra. [Delius specifies a great Goblin shout in his tone poem Eventyr. Ed.]

The best moments, no doubt, are when musical instruments simulate the sounds of people. Thus, in “Sarka”, Smetana gives us dissonant bassoons imitating the sound of loud snoring. Papa Haydn himself scripted the best primal scream, as it were. Just as the slow movement of Symphony No. 93 winds to a graceful conclusion, we get a fortissimo bassoon blast which can only be described as tempestuous flatulence.

Brian Reinhart



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