Though the 30 members of the Queensland Orchestra selected for this release might suggest a chamber approach, the results are anything but; the wide audio spectrum supplied by Melba’s magnificent engineering and the broad and big-tuned lines that conductor Tourniaire provides fasten the musical hinges firmly on the side of large-scale Mozart, and about time, I say. This, his greatest concerto, is a masterpiece of over-swept melody and orchestral concentration that perfectly sets the clarinet off from the orchestra. Yes, clarinet; the fleet-footed technique and gorgeously supple tone of Paul Dean’s chosen instrument belong to the A clarinet and not to the basset clarinet, as a recent released recording might suggest. But this in no way detracts from the music, as we are now too long accustomed to the more traditional instrument.
The first movement is set at a generally regulated tempo, perhaps a mite faster than the norm, but also robustly defiant of any attempt to bog down or stretch to make a point...The second movement thrives under Dean’s quicker-than-usual tempo, yet like the slow movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, which needs to perfectly hover between 12/8 subdivided and four to a bar, this one works wonderfully when finding the same tension between subdivided-six and three to a bar. Dean’s tone again comes to the rescue with some woody and reedy breathing that makes the music come alive. The last movement is sprightly and lilting, as Mozart gives the instrument the once over in a lesson of arpeggiation. This reading leaps to the upper echelon, joining Brymer and Sabine Meyer (on basset with Vonk, not Abbado) with a handful of slightly lesser recordings in a fiercely competitive market.
The Quintet lags only slightly behind in significance. Mozart’s late-season love affair with the sound of Anton Stadler’s instrument paid dividends for which every music lover will always owe a debt, and set the standard for a new form that would blossom multiple times in the coming years. Here, the qualifying round becomes a little stiffer for Dean and company. Though the Grainger Quartet is truly marvelous in this music, and Dean still soars, recent years have shown a spate of new recordings that exude equal magnificence...Yet I will not deny Dean’s entry, as there is an Aussie ruggedness and emotional frankness that is not afraid to play—and love—Mozart for his most basic human qualities. Dean also is able to blend his tone with the Graingers to achieve a most favorable and appealingly warm and projected aural quality.
Everyone will have favorites in both these pieces...This new release deserves to be placed among the best, no matter which you think those are.