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Mozart, Brahms: Clarinet Quintets / Hoeprich, Et Al

Release Date: 06/27/2006 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 920607   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus MozartJohannes Brahms
Performer:  Jonathan CohenJames BoydEric HoeprichMargaret Faultless,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Haydn String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Unquestionably, the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms have earned time-honored and well-deserved places in the repertoire of clarinetists worldwide. In the informative and well-written annotations by Eric Hoeprich, we read that “they embody the maturity, depth, experience, and possibly even a premonition of an otherworldliness soon to be experienced firsthand.”

Both quintets are undisputed masterpieces that share a number of common characteristics. They were penned near the end of the lives of the composers; both works were written for exceptional performers; and both begin with the strings alone, with the initial entry of the clarinet appearing as a rising arpeggio. In the slow movements of both, the strings are played
Read more con sordini, and in the Adagio of the Brahms, the reference to folk music is not unlike Mozart’s use of the Ländler in the second trio of the Minuet in his quintet. Finally, the concluding movements of both works are set as theme and variations sequences. But the similarities extend beyond the quintets’ architecture. Both were written for clarinetists who were owners of slightly unusual instruments. In the case of Mozart’s clarinetist, Anton Stadler, he worked with the instrument-maker Theodor Lotz in developing a basset clarinet, i.e., an instrument with an extended lower range. Richard Mühlfeld, the artist for whom Brahms wrote his two sonatas, trio, and quintet (and whom Brahms nicknamed meine Primadonna) used marginally out-of-date clarinets outfitted with the Bärmann system, but modified by Georg Ottensteiner. An authentic Ottensteiner clarinet may be seen at uark.edu/ua/nc/NCCollectionPage/Page/Ottensteiner.htm.

Other than the obvious stylistic differences that occurred in the century separating these two compositions, the greatest difference is that Mozart placed the clarinet more in the forefront of the proceedings, while Brahms wove the instrument’s unique qualities into the fabric of his work. Also, the first edition of the Brahms, published by Simrock, calls for the clarinet in A to be replaced by the clarinet in B? in measures 82–93 in the Adagio, but Mozart retains the clarinet in A throughout.

Eric Hoeprich is no stranger to period-instrument performance. His recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet for Philips in the 1980s was the first to use period instruments. Hoeprich has recorded the concerto twice in the intervening years, once with the Orchestra of the Old Fairfield Academy for Musical Heritage Society and again with Frans Brüggen’s Orchestra of the 18th Century for the Spanish label Glossa. This, however, represents Hoeprich’s second recording of the Mozart Quintet and his first of the Brahms on a period instrument.

The main competition for the Mozart is Charles Neidich and L’Archibudelli on Sony (53366); for the Brahms, Jean-Claude Vielhan and the Stadler Quintet on K617 84. Neidich takes just over 34 minutes to get through the Mozart and Vielhan makes his way through the Brahms in 41 minutes. Also, the Neidich recording of the Mozart sounds dated by comparison to the suavity of this new item from Glossa, and Vielhan’s Brahms appears a bit undernourished. While Glossa offers what has been viewed as the traditional coupling here, K617 is a bit more adventurous, filling out its period-instrument recording of the Brahms with a tempting and lovely clarinet quintet of Stephan Krell (1864–1924), a contemporary of Debussy and Nielsen, but a composer whose musical syntax is firmly rooted in Romanticism. Krell’s quintet was also penned for Richard Mühlfeld.

Hoeprich and the London Haydn Quartet set a comfortable, but slightly more animated pace in both of these works (32 and a half minutes for the Mozart and just over 39 minutes for the Brahms), but Hoeprich never leaves one with the impression that he and his colleagues are pressed for time; the collective running time of the quintets is just under 72 minutes, some eight minutes shy of the 80-minute maximum available with the current CD technology.

After all is said and done, the laurel wreath is awarded to Hoeprich and his colleagues for not only the nobility and vitality of this release, but also for his exceptional insight into the emotional content of these two works. Additionally, the shaping of the melodic contours by these expressively adept performers further commends what are already vivid, introspective, and sophisticated readings. This is a must for clarinetists and those who are interested in wind chamber music.

FANFARE: Michael Carter
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K 581 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Jonathan Cohen (Cello), James Boyd (Viola), Eric Hoeprich (Basset Clarinet),
Margaret Faultless (Violin), Catherine Manson (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Haydn String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1789; Vienna, Austria 
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Jonathan Cohen (Cello), James Boyd (Viola), Eric Hoeprich (Clarinet),
Margaret Faultless (Violin), Catherine Manson (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Haydn String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Austria 

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