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Mozart, Beethoven, M. Haydn / Vienna Octet

Mozart / Boskovksy / Panhofer / Wiener Oktett
Release Date: 10/15/2010 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 4802378   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Clarinet Quintet. 1 Clarinet Trio, “Kegelstatt. 1,2 ” Cassation in B?, K 99. Quintet for Piano and Winds 2. BEETHOVEN Quintet for Piano and Winds 2. M. HAYDN Divertimento in G Vienna Octet; 1 Read more class="ARIAL12">Alfred Boskovsky (cl); 2 Walter Panhofer (pn) DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2378 (2 CDs: 132:50)

This set gathers together the early stereo takes of chamber music with piano featuring the Vienna Octet’s “house pianist” Walter Panhofer, along with Alfred Boskovsky’s 1963 stereo remake of the Clarinet Quintet (his 1954 mono version is available in another volume in the Eloquence series), along with a couple of lighter fillers featuring the main group.

The piano-and-wind quintets both go very well, Panhofer’s light, sparingly pedaled touch nicely setting off the characterful wind blend: woody clarinet; light brown, vocally inflected horn; nasal, rather acidic oboe; and reedy bassoon. Rhythms are incisive, dynamic contrasts keen, and phrasing pointed with refinement and finesse. Both first-movement exposition repeats are observed.

These quintets were much recorded in the 1950s and early 60s, and comparisons are revealing. The main competition to Vienna came from England, with a national wind style incomparable in its rich-toned beauty and character: recordings from the Melos Ensemble with pianist Lamar Crowson, all dash and élan (EMI), as well as the fabled Philharmonia wind principals with Gieseking, whose dry, tinkly way with Mozart has not aged well, however (EMI). On the other hand, Serkin’s recordings with Philadelphia wind principals (Sony) are refined, pointed, and intense, with a rich, polished wind style. The great Lili Kraus was not nearly so fortunate in her chamber colleagues, though, and her inspirational, improvisatory pianism is quite sabotaged by the watery, acidic, ill-tuned sounds emanating from the French wind players (Japanese EMI/Toshiba). Perhaps best of all, Friedrich Gulda and the Vienna Philharmonic Wind Ensemble (DG, 1960) are unforgettably glorious, between Gulda’s breadth and sculpted clarity and the pungent, full-toned Viennese winds, more imposingly symphonic than those of the Vienna Octet.

The “Kegelstatt” Trio is distinguished by Willi Boskovsky’s elegant viola playing (his only chamber recording on this instrument, according to Tully Potter’s highly informative notes). For some reason, Panhofer is less compelling here than in the quintets—softer-focused, less alert, and with more resort to pedal. Concerning the competition, the English trio Crowson, de Peyer, and Aronowitz (EMI) are more characterful all round; again, Lili Kraus’s many felicities are undone by the dreadful French clarinetist.

The Clarinet Quintet, with Boskovsky brother Alfred, has an authoritative rightness of sound and style, with a first movement of pacey elegance, a slow movement of autumnal beauty, and a finale of exquisite expressive understatement. By comparison, the next-generation Vienna Octet, with clarinettist Peter Schmidl (Decca, 1989) plays with silken beauty, but also an element of suaveness missing from the 1963 performance. Closer to the original Octet’s time, Jack Brymer and the Allegri Quartet (Philips) are measured, direct, and eloquent: another fascinating study in English versus Viennese style—Brymer’s liquid purity, colored by his intensely individual fast vibrato, against Boskovsky’s more rustic-sounding orange-brown, “woody” color.

Mozart’s early Cassation in B? is treated to a chamber-scale reading of sweet Viennese intimacy—quite a contrast with the businesslike efficiency of Marriner/Academy of St. Martin’s in the Philips Mozart Edition. Michael Haydn’s frothy divertimento is done to a fare-thee-well. Another fine collection in this very welcome reissue series.

FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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