MOZART: Quintet in A major for Clarinet & Strings; JOHANNES BRAHMS: Quintet in B minor for Clarinet & Strings – Anthony McGill, clar./Pacifica Quartet – Cedille

by | Jul 20, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Quintet in A major for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581; JOHANNES BRAHMS: Quintet in B minor for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 115 – Anthony McGill, clarinet/Pacifica Quartet – Cedille CDR90000 147 [Distr. by Naxos] (5/27/14) 68:38 ****:

For clarinetists, the Quintets of Mozart and Brahms are not just the two finest and best known works of the genre, ever, but these pieces are standard repertoire. It is simply not possible to go through a clarinet performance program anywhere and not have to learn these works. For the general public, it is highly likely that you have heard at least bits of these masterworks at some time.

There are, understandably, many, many recordings of these Quintets out there and even clarinetists may be tempted to go listen to a recording by one of the current or historical “big names” in clarinet playing (e.g. Leister, Shifrin, DePeyer, Wright et al) The best advice I would give anyone is do not ignore this new and very satisfying recording by an up and coming “big name”, Anthony McGill.

McGill has served as the principal clarinetist for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for the past several years but he recently was named principal clarinet for the New York Philharmonic. Anthony serves as an inspirational story for young players, in my opinion. McGill is originally from the inner city in Chicago and was a bit of a child prodigy. Through his own appreciable skills and the attention of some influential professionals he attended the Interlochen Arts Academy, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and has taught at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and the Mannes College of Music in New York City.

Anthony is one of the few black musicians to hold a principal chair in a major symphony orchestra. I have had the pleasure of corresponding with him on occasion and he is also a very nice guy. As a clarinetist, he has a warm, attractive tone and ample technique coupled with a sensitive ear for phrasing that serves him well in these masterpieces.

As often played and recorded and performed as these two works are, there is still plenty of room for interpretation (or misinterpretation or “over interpretation”) For example, the final Allegretto con Variazoni in the Mozart can be really rushed and “showy” for the soloist at the expense of genuine period style. Similarly, the lush Adagio second movement in the Brahms can be “gypsy-ed” to the point where there is too much rubato or it drags.

McGill avoids both these pitfalls and his performances here are beautiful but not mannered and wholly impressive but not needlessly showy. His approach to the works as true ensemble pieces is helped tremendously by the skills and musicianship of the Indiana based Pacifica Quartet. This is a wonderful quartet in a sea of quartets. I have heard them but once before, in one volume of their very important “Soviet Experience” quartets on Cedille and they remain incredibly impressive.

I enjoyed this disc a great deal. I do think that Anthony McGill is a master clarinetist that all players but especially young, aspiring performers ought to emulate. For anyone wishing to have a recording of these amazing works, I know there are so many out there to choose from but this is very good and highly recommended.

—Daniel Coombs


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