Classical CD Reviews

MOZART: Clarinet Quintet in A major; String Quartet in D minor – Jörg Widmann, clar. /Arcanto Quartett – Harmonia mundi

There’s always room for another well-done Mozart recording!

Published on October 30, 2013

MOZART: Clarinet Quintet in A major; String Quartet in D minor – Jörg Widmann, clar. /Arcanto Quartett – Harmonia mundi

MOZART: Clarinet Quintet in A major K581; String Quartet in D minor K421 – Jörg Widmann, clarinet/Arcanto Quartett – Harmonia mundi HMC902168, 58:45 ***1/2:

The Clarinet Quintet of Mozart was the first work of this genre to have been written in full classical style and in the manner of the string quartet plus clarinet. At the time, it was considered a daring move. Previous works by Stamitz and others relied on a pair of violas; even Mozart’s own Horn Quintet, K407, used the non-standard string arrangement. Mozart took the issues with balance, timbre and range – as in all things – as a challenge. The resultant work was created in collaboration with Mozart’s friend, the master clarinetist Anton Stadler and it became the benchmark composition in this genre and begat other such masterpieces as the quintets by Weber and Brahms. The relationship with Stadler also spawned the famous Clarinet Concerto K622 and the “Kegelstatt” Trio for clarinet, viola and piano, K498. Each of these works is considered by many to remain the work for that genre by which all others must be compared.

That seems especially true for the Quintet, a work in which tempo and balance will define a wonderful performance from a mediocre one. Jörg Widmann’s playing here is terrific. He has a smooth tone and fluid technique but, most importantly, the pacing seems just right. The second movement, Larghetto, is suitably relaxed; neither rushed nor turgid. There is sometimes a tendency for the finale, Allegretto con Variazoni, to be rushed and too non-classical; predating Weber’s Variations. Widmann’s approach here is just right, offering an impressive but elegant performance. (Widmann does include some ornamentation in the presentation of the Theme that is not always used. They are placed sensitively and do nothing to detract from the work.) This is one of those works, like the Concerto, that has been recorded many, many times. One of my old favorites is an old Dieter Klocker one and the present Widmann compares very favorably. I should think any clarinetist or Mozart lover would really enjoy this performance.

The String Quartet in D minor, K421, is not as well known to me but I have long admired just about anything by Mozart (how can you not?). This work also stems from the composer’s years in Vienna and some alliances he made while there—Franz Joseph Haydn in particular. This is a more restrained or serious work than the Clarinet Quintet and is considered the second of his six “Haydn Quartets”, in deference to their source of inspiration and dedication. This particular work was considered a bit of an enigma for a long time, as its tone does not really seem to coincide with the occasion of its creation; the birth of his own son, Raimund (who was to die but two months later). It does hold a bit in common with the Clarinet Quintet in that this piece, too, concludes with a set of variations – albeit in a very different mood.

I think everything about this album is quite enjoyable. The Arcanto Quartett plays beautifully both in full quartet vein as well as in the ensemble mode with Jörg Widmann. According to the Harmonia mundi packaging, this is the group’s first CD recording of some of the Mozart repertoire; a very surprising thing considering their obvious prowess with the style. I recommend this strongly to anyone who likes Mozart or to anyone who like wonderful quartet playing!

—Daniel Coombs

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