Sublime Mozart indeed! Melba’s latest release couples two of Mozart’s most recorded works for clarinet. At the time of writing there are already three alternative versions on SACD of this coupling as well as countless others…When one takes into account the individual recordings of each of the works with different couplings, comparisons become difficult and personal taste comes very much to the fore.
Mozart, of course, did not write a clarinet concerto but one for the basset clarinet. The solo part thus extends beyond the normal low range of a modern clarinet, and once one has heard it played on the basset clarinet it is difficult not to feel that something has been lost when a modern clarinet in A is used. Then there is the question of modern or period instruments in the orchestra to be considered, again mostly a matter of taste.
Paul Dean, the fine clarinettist on this recording, opts for a standard clarinet and the orchestra uses modern instruments, which is the way one would be most likely to encounter performances in concert halls today.
He gives a fluent and sensitive account of the solo part and the recording places him in the right perspective with the orchestra, thus avoiding any clicking keys or breathy noises from his instrument being captured by the microphones. Tempi are well chosen, brisk but not rushed, and the thirty-three players of the Queensland Orchestra and Guillaume Tourniaire provide alert and stylish support. Dean’s performance of the exquisite slow movement seems, to this listener, as near perfection as one could ever expect to hear.
The performance of the Clarinet Quintet, in which the recently formed Grainger Quartet joins Paul Dean, is equally enjoyable and almost disarms criticism. The technical refinement of the Grainger’s playing is particularly notable in the first of the Trios in the third movement (Menuetto) while all the performers capture the poignancy as well as the wit and humour in the variations of the final Allegretto.
The concerto and quintet were recorded at two different locations and both are captured in clean open acoustics by the engineers…Melba’s presentation and packaging is, as usual, very tasteful and of high quality. The recording is dedicated to Australia’s greatest arts patron, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, in celebration of her 100th birthday on 8th February 2009 and it would be hard to imagine a finer present for someone whose favourite composer is Mozart.