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Mozart: Clarinet Concerto & Quintet / Sharon Kam

Mozart / Kam / Van Keulen / Jacobsen / Rivinius
Release Date: 09/13/2011 
Label:  Berlin Classics   Catalog #: 16672   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Sharon KamUlrike-Anima MatheIsabelle van KeulenGustav Rivinius,   ... 
Conductor:  Sharon Kam
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Clarinet Concerto. Clarinet Quintet Sharon Kam (cl, cond); Haydn Philharmonia; Isabelle van Keulen, Ulrike-Anima Mathé (vn); Volker Jacobsen (va); Gustav Rivinius (vc) BERLIN 1667 (57:39)

Since the term “basset clarinet” has continued to be the subject of some confusion, let’s recapitulate briefly: Mozart’s clarinet works were written for the Vienna clarinetist Anton Stadler; Stadler had special clarinets with a lower range extended to (written) C below middle C, like the basset horn, Read more rather than the standard low E. These clarinets have accordingly, if somewhat confusingly, become known as “basset clarinets,” although the term was not used at the time, and “extended-range clarinet” is probably clearer and more accurate. In any event, Stadler’s extended-range instrument didn’t catch on, and quickly became extinct.

Most of Mozart’s music for Stadler was written for this instrument, including obbligato parts in two arias from La Clemenza di Tito ; in these, the low notes are clearly indicated in the score. The present two works, however, did not survive in autograph, only in early published editions that had already been adjusted in order to be playable on a standard clarinet. In the Concerto the passages in question can mostly be identified easily, since they often feature sudden leaps of a sixth or seventh in lines that move the other way. A good example is in the first excursion of the Rondo (m. 61), where a descending arpeggio suddenly leaps up a sixth before continuing its descent; the reverse happens in the following measure. Restored to its logical form for the extended-range clarinet, the passage has one long, two-and-a-half-octave line descending to the instrument’s lowest note, followed by a complementary ascent.

Beginning in the 1970s, as the vogue for period-instrument and historically informed performance grew, some clarinetists have had clarinets specially built with the extra low notes necessary for playing Mozart’s works as they are believed to have been written. Recordings of the Concerto on extended-range instruments have used several different reconstructions, all of which are necessarily conjectural. Sharon Kam takes a fairly radical approach, shifting downward practically every passage that suggests the possibility of having been rewritten; the results are for the most part quite compelling.

The Quintet is a tougher nut to crack; either Mozart didn’t use the additional low notes as much in it, or the editors of the first edition did a better job camouflaging their emendations. In any event, “restoring” this score to what might have been its original form is more speculative. Again Kam makes more revisions of the clarinet part than any other soloist I’ve heard, and here the results are sometimes disconcerting—for example, she rewrites the Quintet’s opening passage and most of the first-movement development section. (She does not , however, alter the movement’s final measures to conform to those of the exposition, as do most others.)

All of this having been said, it would be a case of the tail wagging the dog if this review were not to address the music-making qua music-making. Accordingly, I can report that Sharon Kam’s playing here is an unadulterated joy to hear: Her sound is lovely, well focused, dark and reedy, and firm in every register; her technique is beyond reproach. She does all the important things, beginning trills on the upper auxiliary and playing Eingänge at fermatas and on-the-beat grace notes. Her tempos tend to be rather brisk; she is faster than David Shifrin, whose Delos recording of these works is the reference version on the extended-range clarinet, in every movement except the finale of the Quintet, in which she is a trivial five seconds slower. This makes her slow movements less ethereal, particularly since Shifrin displays an exquisite legato and astounding breath control. Shifrin’s phrasings are also more seductive, and his first violinist in the Quintet, Ida Kavafian, plays more sweetly than Isabelle van Keulen does for Kam.

Shifrin’s reconstructions are on the conservative side, so the two versions complement each other nicely. This is especially fitting since he was one of Kam’s teachers at Juilliard. If his 1984 recordings remain unmatched—he also has Gerard Schwarz and the Mostly Mozart Orchestra as allies in the Concerto—Kam’s readings are certainly worthy in their own right. I haven’t heard Martin Fröst on BIS (recommended by Michael Fine in Fanfare 27:6), but I heartily recommend this new CD by Sharon Kam to clarinet mavens and Mozarteans alike.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Clarinet in A major, K 622 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Sharon Kam (Basset Clarinet)
Conductor:  Sharon Kam
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/08/2009 
Venue:  Kempen, Paterskirche 
Length: 26 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K 581 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Ulrike-Anima Mathe (Violin), Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Gustav Rivinius (Cello),
Volker Jacobsen (Viola), Sharon Kam (Basset Clarinet)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1789; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Hanover, Congress Centrum, Beethovensaal 
Length: 30 Minutes 14 Secs. 

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