Notes and Editorial Reviews
Paul Dean (cl); Guillaume Tourniaire, cond; Grainger Str Qrt; Queensland O
MELBA 301122 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 58:42)
Though the 30 members of the Queensland Orchestra selected for this release might suggest a chamber approach, the results are anything but; the wide audio spectrum supplied by Melba’s magnificent engineering and the broad and big-tuned lines
that conductor Tourniaire provides fasten the musical hinges firmly on the side of large-scale Mozart, and about time, I say. This, his greatest concerto, is a masterpiece of over-swept melody and orchestral concentration that perfectly sets the clarinet off from the orchestra. Yes, clarinet; the fleet-footed technique and gorgeously supple tone of Paul Dean’s chosen instrument belong to the A clarinet and not to the basset clarinet, as a recent released recording might suggest. But this in no way detracts from the music, as we are now too long accustomed to the more traditional instrument.
The first movement is set at a generally regulated tempo, perhaps a mite faster than the norm, but also robustly defiant of any attempt to bog down or stretch to make a point. Beecham did this in his classic reading with Jack Brymer, but Brymer had the patience and sustaining power to make it work—many players do not. The second movement thrives under Dean’s quicker-than-usual tempo, yet like the slow movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, which needs to perfectly hover between 12/8 subdivided and four to a bar, this one works wonderfully when finding the same tension between subdivided-six and three to a bar. Dean’s tone again comes to the rescue with some woody and reedy breathing that makes the music come alive. The last movement is sprightly and lilting, as Mozart gives the instrument the once over in a lesson of arpeggiation. This reading leaps to the upper echelon, joining Brymer and Sabine Meyer (on basset with Vonk, not Abbado) with a handful of slightly lesser recordings in a fiercely competitive market.
The Quintet lags only slightly behind in significance. Mozart’s late-season love affair with the sound of Anton Stadler’s instrument paid dividends for which every music lover will always owe a debt, and set the standard for a new form that would blossom multiple times in the coming years. Here, the qualifying round becomes a little stiffer for Dean and company. Though the Grainger Quartet is truly marvelous in this music, and Dean still soars, recent years have shown a spate of new recordings that exude equal magnificence. Pascal Moraguès provides some wonderfully lush SACD sound with the Pražák Quartet on Praga; Michel Portal and the Ysaÿe Quartet give us a reading of much delicacy and hushed introspection, as if daring us to listen ever more closely; Karl-Heinz Steffens on Tudor offers another SACD splendor-fest with a stiffer, yet provocatively straightforward and objectively nuanced reading of great circumspection; and the basset lovers will find no better version than Eric Hoeprich’s turn on a Centaur recording from Aston Magna. Yet I will not deny Dean’s entry, as there is an Aussie ruggedness and emotional frankness that is not afraid to play—and love—Mozart for his most basic human qualities. Dean also is able to blend his tone with the Graingers to achieve a most favorable and appealingly warm and projected aural quality.
Everyone will have favorites in both these pieces, and I have concentrated on those with state-of-the-art sound and recent vintage. This new release deserves to be placed among the best, no matter which you think those are.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
The front cover bears the words “Sublime Mozart” and few will disagree with those terms in respect of these works. There is however always the risk that their very perfection may engender a blandness in performance. Performers can be all too aware that any positive response on their part to the music may lead to a negative response in some listeners. Thus we hear too many faceless performances, no doubt played with great beauty of tone and no doubt lacking real interaction with the music.
Fortunately that is very much not the case here, especially with the Quintet. The music is thoughtfully and vividly characterized throughout. At no time is this a routine performance, but neither does it fall into the trap of drawing too much attention to the performance per se. Rather it sounds like five sincere and gifted musicians responding to a great masterwork in an apparently spontaneous way - although I have no doubt that it was in fact very carefully prepared. There are so many outstanding performances of this work in the catalogues that it would be foolish to claim that this might be the “best” available, but it is certainly one well worth hearing and well worth having if you want this very logical coupling.
Similar considerations apply to the Concerto, although here I am not so certain about the orchestra’s contribution. This is very beautifully played but lacks the kind of specific response to the music or the soloist that could make it a great performance. Nonetheless the soloist’s performance is of such quality that it is worth hearing on his account. He was in fact Principal Clarinet with this Orchestra from 1987 to 2000 although I understand from the booklet that he now divides his time between a number of Australian musical groups.
The recording is excellent without drawing undue attention to itself. Like earlier Melba discs that I have encountered, the presentation here is excellent, with the disc clipped inside the front cover of a very smart-looking booklet which contains photographs, good notes on the music in English, German and French, and notes on the performers in English only. The latter lists the members of the Grainger Quartet. As this information is not included anywhere else in the booklet and as they deserve individual recognition I repeat them here – Narsuko Yoshimoto and James Cuddeford (violins), Jeremy Williams (viola) and Patrick Murphy (cello). The members of the orchestra are also individually listed – a feature that other companies should copy.
The disc is dedicated to Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE on her 100th birthday on 9 February 2009. This must have been an excellent birthday present which I hope she enjoyed as much as I did.
-- John Sheppard, MusicWeb International
“Sublime Mozart indeed! … as near perfection as one could ever expect to hear.” -- SA-CD. NET (UK)
“Paul Dean shapes the lovely melodic arches in both works with a sure musical instinct, producing a rich, mellow tone and manifesting exceptional control–the softest notes always speak without a hint of breathiness … As is typical of this label, the packaging is lavish.” -- The Absolute Sound (US)
“Outstanding performances, recorded with Melba’s usual rich sonics. The release lives up to its title: Sublime Mozart … Both of these are packaged luxuriously, with profuse program notes. Recommended!” -- Classical CD Review (US)
“Two classic clarinet works from the master feature in these all Australian performances, both of which reach the highest musical standards.” -- Pittwater Life (Australia)
“Paul Dean plays with all the virtuosic style that has won him honours as “the most distinguished clarinettist of his generation.” -- Courier Mail (Australia)
“The recording and packaging are top-notch, even by the lofty standards Melba Recordings have established in recent years.” -- Readings Monthly (Australia)
“In both works Paul Dean demonstrates his exemplary fluency and a stylish, marvellously phrased affinity for Mozart's classical demands. Moreover conductor Tourniaire appears to have the measure of the enduringly superlative score... Still better, Dean and the Grainger Quartet turn in a sensitive, eminently competitive account of the Clarinet Quintet (1789) … I expect to enjoy some further R&R, reacquainting myself with Melba Recordings' excellent centenarian tribute disc.” -- Music and Vision Daily (UK)
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Works on This Recording
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K 581 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Paul Dean (Clarinet)
Grainger String Quartet
Written: 1789; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Clarinet in A major, K 622 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Paul Dean (Clarinet)
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria
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