Notes and Editorial Reviews
Clarinet Quintet. Quartet in d,
Jörg Widmann (cl); Arcanto Qrt
HARMONIA MUNDI 902168 (58:45)
This recording follows the pattern set by the Arcanto Quartet’s Brahms CD (
32:6): a quintet for solo instrument and strings paired with the composer’s knottiest string quartet. Mozart’s K 421, the only one of his mature quartets written in a minor key, is given a reading of great contrasts, with every detail
sharply etched and every
indication emphasized. The Arcantos—violinists Antje Weithaas and Daniel Sepec, violist Tabea Zimmermann, and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras—dig deep into Mozart’s extraordinary chromaticism and adhere scrupulously to the minutest score marking; the result is that the first-movement development section, for example, has never sounded more radical in its daring harmonic juxtapositions. The movement is taken at a deliberate tempo, almost a full minute slower than the Alban Berg Quartet’s more elegant reading for EMI. The exposition repeat is observed, but not the longer second repeat. The rest of the performance is of a kind, with contrasts played up and drama heightened. It’s not everyone’s Mozart—I’m not entirely sure
like it—but it’s bracing, and forced me to hear this masterpiece in a new way. You can’t really ask for much more than that.
As with the Brahms CD, the Quintet is less sharply characterized; this quintessentially lyrical work could hardly reflect the sort of intensity that characterizes the reading of the quartet. It seems, however, that clarinetist Jörg Widmann and the quartet aren’t completely on the same wavelength; the strings play with lots of subtle inflections, Widmann more straightforwardly. Tempos are no-nonsense, that of the second movement more of an
than a true
. Widmann’s sound is well-focused but a little bright, as is the recording. All in all, it’s a very fine but not really loveable reading, more crystalline than warm. A preferable recent alternative is that of Sharon Kam on Berlin Classics (
Like the Arcanto’s Brahms and Bartók CDs for Harmonia Mundi, this is a highly distinctive recording, if perhaps not quite as distinguished as those two; I have not heard their Schubert Quintet, but Jerry Dubins raved about it in 36:4. I am appalled to discover that the former two are apparently already out of print. If this kind of Mozart playing appeals to you, then, grab it while you can!
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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