Penelope Crawford / Jaap Schröder / Skálholt String Quartet / Owen Watkins

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet, K. 581; "Kegelstatt" Trio, K. 498

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This release, covering a pair of Mozart's late masterpieces for the clarinet, puts together a pair of performances recorded at different times and places, with indifferent sound in both church locations. The album's distinguishing feature is that it's a true historical-instrument performance, combining a so-called basset clarinet in the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, with historically oriented work from the other musicians, including the mostly Icelandic Skálholt String Quartet (the first violinist is the veteran Dutch performer Jaap Schröder). It's a bit strong to say, as in the booklet, that playing the Clarinet Quintet on a modern clarinet has led to a "distorted impression" of the work; there are just a few passages in which the extended low range of the basset clarinet is exploited. But there aren't many recordings played on the wooden instrument (unidentified, as is the fortepiano, and there are other questionable editorial matters in the booklet) for which Mozart imagined the work, whose more cutting tone compared with the modern clarinet is more important than the slightly larger range. Clarinetist Owen Watkins is ably and economically supported by the little-known Skálholt group, and the result is a performance that differs substantially from the common run of Clarinet Quintet recordings on the market, one that pays more attention to its virtuoso qualities than to its melodic smoothness and even suggests that the latter may be a Romantic-era artifact. The work is paired with the lesser-known Trio for clarinet, viola, and piano, K. 498 ("Kegelstatt"), with Schröder on viola and American fortepianist Penelope Crawford on the keyboard. The divergence from the norm is less striking here, although fortepiano performances of the piece are not common. In general, the performance has many of the same virtues as that of the Clarinet Quintet. Recommended for those interested in the historical performance of Mozart's works.

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