Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mozart?s concerto actually began life as a concerto for basset horn (not basset clarinet) and was written in the key of G. The manuscript ended abruptly after the 191st measure of the first movement. Mozart rethought his plan, decided to recast the concerto in A, and overhauled the solo part for basset clarinet, an instrument developed by his friend Anton Stadler The version that entered the repertoire after Mozart?s death was an adaptation of the original. The passages that fell below the compass of the normal clarinet as well as other material were altered, and it was in this version that generations of
clarinetists learned the work.
The earliest extant clarinet concertos appear to have been written by Johann Melchior Molter (1696?1765),
at the court of Karl Wilhelm, Count of Baden-Dürlach. Molter was extremely prolific and some of his work has raised the eyebrows of more than one musicologist, but they all seem to agree that the clarinet concertos are surely his. Molter had a proclivity for writing for unusual instruments (including the flauto d?amore, flauto cornetto, and the clarinet?s predecessor, the chalumeau.
At the time, the clarinet was still in its infancy, light years away from the instruments that Mozart came to know in London and Paris, and further removed still from Stadler?s instrument.
Like Mozart, Molter had the talents of a specific performer in mind; in this case, it was Johannes Rausch. Molter penned six concertos for the clarinet in D, an instrument that has made isolated guest appearances in music of Berlioz and Richard Strauss, but otherwise has long vanished from the instrumentalist?s cabinet. Coming to light only after World War II, Molter?s concertos are an amalgam of the dying Baroque and emerging
; at times one hears figurations recalling Vivaldi and at others, Pergolesi isn?t far away. Having played one of these in my youth, I can tell you from experience that they are fiendishly difficult works with the soloist spending most of the time in the clarinet?s
register, confronted by scales, arpeggios, and other tricks of the trade.
With the exception of recordings from the 1990s (Wolfgang Meyer recorded all six for Amati; a Claves CD by Thomas Friedli included the Concerto in A, and László Horvath recorded five for Hungaroton), this is the first time I?ve seen
of Molter?s clarinet concertos in years. They are not likely to enter the active repertoire, as few clarinetists will want to purchase a special instrument on which to play them, but once in a while, someone?like Kari Kriikku?bites the bullet and the results are wonderful.
Kriikku is a brilliant technician, negotiating the intricacies of the Mozart concerto with enviable ease, and his reading of the Adagio is one of the best I?ve heard in years. The basset clarinet has some built-in intonation problems, but Kriikku overcomes these, presenting a recording that is unquestionably the best. The pacing is relaxed, the articulation clean and clear, and there is overall warmth that is wholly appropriate to the Mozart. As for the Molter concertos, we?re in a different world, but one that Kriikku knows all too well, as demonstrated by his consummate artistry. Kriikku?s playing outstrips Wolfgang Meyer who, though technically competent, is hamstrung by Ladislav Czarnecki?s ponderous tempos. The cool and distant playing of Thomas Friedli is also markedly different from Kriikku?s bold and gregarious approach, and Kriikku?s tone is more suave and less shrill than that of László Horvath, although the Hungaroton release does offer playing by the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra that is a bit more energetic than that submitted by the Tapiola Sinfonietta.
I have no reservations about recommending this one; it should be on the shelf of every serious student of the clarinet, not to mention their professors.
FANFARE: Michael Carter
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Clarinet in A major, K 622 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Kari Kriikku (Basset-horn)
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria
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