MOZART: Trio in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, K. 498, “Kegelstatt”; ALFRED UHL: Kleines Konzert; BRUCH: Eight Pieces, Op. 83 – Lake Trio – Partita CD 2009-A, 74:24 ****:
Legend has it that Mozart composed his charming trio in a single day while bowling with friends—hence the nickname Kegelstatt (“Bowling Alley”). It was written for and premiered by Mozart’s piano student Franziska von Jacquin, with Mozart playing viola and his friend Anton Stadler playing clarinet. Whatever the truth about its composition, it’s a charming lighthearted work that nonetheless displays Mozart’s craftsmanship and endless store of fine melody. The rondo finale is especially buoyant, leaving the audience wishing for more.
On the present CD, that more is supplied by the 1937 Kleines Konzert of Austrian composer Alfred Uhl (1909-1992). An early work of Uhl written for principal clarinetist of the Vienna Philharmonic Leopold Wlach, it’s composed in a bracing neoclassical style that recalls the witty astringency of Stravinsky in his neoclassical vein. The bustling outer movements are angular in melody, motoric in forward momentum, keeping the players very busy throughout. The middle movement has an unexpected earnestness that’s quickly dispelled by the penny-bright last movement. It reminds me of the skittish finale of Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto written around the same time. Besides operas and choral music, Uhl reportedly wrote a lot of chamber music; on the evidence of his attractive Kleines Konzert, it should be worth seeking out.
We stay in the twentieth century, at least nominally, for Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces of 1911. It’s a work with the autumnal glow of Brahms circa 1890, when that composer rediscovered the clarinet in his final chamber music masterpieces. Like Bruch’s Concerto for Viola and Clarinet, Eight Pieces was written for his son, Max Felix, an accomplished clarinetist. And like others of Bruch’s late works, it has a sad dark nostalgia about it. In fact, seven of the eight pieces are cast in the minor key; only No. 7 in B major, a jaunty Mendelssohnian affair, is untouched by this prevailingly dark mood. Oftentimes in performance, several of the pieces are excerpted from the eight. Yet the work has a cyclic feeling to it: some of the individual movements have similar themes or at least thematic contours, so it makes sense to hear the work performed as a whole, especially since it has so many melodic beauties to share.
This is an enticing program whose points of contrast and convergence make for stimulating listening. Programming the rarely heard Uhl is especially inspired and would make this CD recommendable even if the playing were less accomplished than it is. But then the members of The Lake Trio (John Marco, clarinet; Igor Fedotov, viola; and Gary Hammond, piano) play as if they have a special relationship to all this music. Whether rendering the poised classicism of Mozart, the machined-tooled neoclassicism of Uhl, or the ripe post-Brahmsian sound world of Bruch, the Trio turns out stylish, engaging performances, captured in a well-balanced recording from the James W. Miller Auditorium of Western Michigan University. Recommended without hesitation.
— Lee Passarella