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Mozart Brahms clarinet HDTT11228

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K581 (1789)
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Adagio for Clarinet and Strings
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op.115 (1891)
Members of the Vienna Octet
rec. 1961/63, Sofiensaal, Vienna
Reviewed as download

I should first point out that these classic performances were recorded by Decca in the old Sofiensaal, famous for its acoustic, and they have come up beautifully in this HDTT transfer. Secondly, although the programming from HDTT is not always so generous, this recording represents excellent value, offering, as it does, fully 67 minutes of music , comprising of two acknowledged chamber music masterpieces, both late works written in the composers’ maturity, and an interesting bonus in the little “Wagner” item, which was long incorrectly attributed but is in fact the second movement of a clarinet quintet written by Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847); it therefore seems unfair to designate it as the “Wagner Adagio” on the cover.

While the sound is evidently not modern, being somewhat brittle it is fine early 60s stereo and every tiny detail may be heard here, with minimal hiss; the listener is instantly drawn into music-making of the era and absorbed by such warm, Romantic playing, distinguished by that recognisably Viennese Gemütlichkeit. Every soloist here is a virtuoso, and they are led by clarinettist Alfred Boskovsky, brother of conductor Willi – the co-founders of the Vienna Octet. For some, there style is too “old-fashioned”; quote a Classics Today review: “They’re typical Vienna Octet performances: warm, middle-of-the-road interpretations overlaid with a surfeit of charm, now more a souvenir of a well-loved group than a viable first choice for contemporary collectors…Alfred Boskovsky plays with an ingratiatingly warm, liquid tone whose midrange lacks ideal color.”

Hmm. Glancing at my shelves, I realise that I have any number of recordings of these two justly most popular of works in the genre and all have their merits: for the Mozart, there are Jack Brymer and the Allegri, Gervase de Peyer and the Amadeus, Keith Puddy and the Gabrieli. Andrew Marriner and the Chilingirian and Sabine Meyer with the Philharmonia Quartet, Berlin – all of whom are enchanting; for the Brahms, I have long enjoyed Keith Puddy – again – with the Delmé and Emma Johnson with the Michelangelo, which was a “Recording of the Month” in June 2015 (review) and among my “Records of the Year”. I appreciate that most of these groups take a more overt, emotionally charged line with this music -particularly in the darker Brahms quintet, but the players here in fact follow Brahms’ markings and, for example, adopt a true “Allegro” in the first movement rather than milk it and I still see no need to patronise or denigrate this lovely, elegant - and yes, more “autumnal” - approach. Rather than a “surfeit of charm” I hear a classical restraint.

The little Adagio responds to their smooth, legato-stressed style and Boskovsky’s liquid timbre in the main melody and the short, contrasting, “scraping” central passage is especially atmospheric; the piece makes a nice “bridge” between the two bigger works.

Ralph Moore

Nikolaus Hübner (cello)
Alfred Boskovsky (clarinet)
Johann Krump (double bass)
Günther Breitenbach (viola)
Anton Fietz, Philipp Matheis (violins)

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