MOZART Clarinet Concerto1. Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, K 498, “Kegelstatt”2. Allegro in B? for Clarinet and String Quartet, K Anh 91 (516c)3 • Martin Fröst (cl); 1cond; 1Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen; Read more class="SUPER12">2Antoine Tamestit (va); 2Leif Ove Andsnes (pn); 3Janine Jansen (vn); 3Boris Brovtsyn (vn); 3Maxim Rysanov (va); 3Torleif Thedéen (vc) • BIS 1893 (SACD: 53:43)
Here is a new release that deserves to bypass my annual Want List and go directly to the Classical Hall of Fame. I’ve been an admirer of clarinetist Martin Fröst for some time, having singled out on more than one occasion his recording of the Brahms clarinet sonatas and Trio as a top choice. But not even those performances could have prepared me for Fröst’s Mozart.
If there’s another recording of the composer’s valedictory Concerto more ravishing than this one, I don’t know what it is. The phrase “liquid gold” is a hackneyed one, but I can think of no substitute for it to describe the buttery smoothness and richness of tone Fröst conjures from his Buffet Crampon basset clarinet in the Concerto and from his B? Buffet “Tosca” clarinet in the “Kegelstatt” Trio and the Allegro for Clarinet and String Quartet.
I know this topic has been visited before, but to recap briefly, the basset clarinet, the instrument for which Mozart is presumed to have written both his Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet, is not the same instrument as the basset horn, but a clarinet in A with additional keywork to extend the range downwards to a sounding F, which is a fifth lower than the lowest sounding note of the normal A clarinet. But it’s not only the range of the instruments that differs. The tonal resonance of the basset clarinet in its chalumeau range (its low register) is of a tactile darkness and density that the A clarinet can’t match, and Fröst takes maximum advantage of his instrument’s potential. Execution is beyond perfect; it enters into the realm of transcendent sublimity. I can’t even find words to describe the legato with which Fröst shifts from a low note to a high one with such lubricated articulation that it’s as if the two notes are adjacent. Nor can I adequately describe how precisely weighted his staccatos are and how even and distinct is every single note in his runs and florid passagework. This is truly clarinet playing in Mozart’s Concerto the likes of which I’ve never heard before.
Yet there’s still more to this magical performance. The orchestra’s contribution is amazing. First and second violins are separated left and right, so that the many echo effects and staggered entrances are clearly audible; and Fröst, who also conducts, has rehearsed the players to mirror his phrasing and means of articulation so that there is utterly no sense of him and them. BIS’s recording contributes too to this awesome accomplishment.
The coup is completed by the addition of two of Mozart’s chamber works featuring clarinet. The so-called “Kegelstatt” Trio—the term is said to refer to the game of skittles, a form of lawn bowling—is well-known and widely recorded, but the Allegro for Clarinet and String Quartet is not. That’s because it’s a mere fragment of a piece Mozart never completed; he got only as far as the first three bars of the development section. A number of others have exercised their hands at completing it. Three of those completed versions, previously reviewed in these pages, are by Duncan Druce on a Linn SACD, which includes clarinet quintet works by Brahms and Glazunov (see issue 30:5) and two versions, one by Franz Beyer, the other by Robert Levin, both on the same CD (see issue 34:4). The version heard on the present disc is the one by Levin, who has also offered his own completion of Mozart’s Requiem.
The players here who join Fröst make for a stellar lineup of artists—violists Maxim Rysanov and Antoine Tamestit, cellist Torleif Thedéen, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who appears courtesy of Sony Classical, violinist Janine Jansen, who appears courtesy of Decca Classics, and violinist Boris Brovtsyn, who I encountered on a two-disc Onyx set of Brahms’s chamber works (see 32:5).
My recommendation of this release is beyond urgent. It doesn’t matter how many recordings you have of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto; I guarantee you have never heard it played like this, and you may never want to hear another recording of it after you’ve heard this one; it’s that good.
Concerto for Clarinet in A major, K 622by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Performer:
Martin Fröst (Clarinet)
German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen
Period: Classical Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria