Patrick Messina / Riccardo Muti

Mozart: Concerto pour Clarinette et Orchestre

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French clarinetist Patrick Messina, principal clarinetist of the Orchestre National de France, has been heavily talked up by Yehudi Menuhin and others, and this 2012 release of Mozart's clarinet evergreens should thus find a large audience of listeners eager to sample his work. The results are mixed, but they show that the hype is at least potentially justified. The less successful of the two works on the program is, oddly, the one with another marquee name. Conductor Riccardo Muti leads Messina and the Orchestre National in the Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622. Muti is not really a Mozartian, and here he's rather uncomfortable; leaving aside the needlessly puffed-up orchestral tutti in the finale, he doesn't coordinate well with Messina, and the two seem unable to agree on just how hard to push their unusually fast tempos. There's nothing to make you pick this recording from among the dozens of other versions of this concerto out there, but the situation changes with the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, where Messina is joined by the Philharmonia Quartet of Berlin. This is an altogether tighter performance, and here you can see what the fuss is about with Messina: his uncanny quiet in the theme of the slow movement, for instance, will linger in the mind long after the performance is finished. Radio France's live sound is impressively clear, and in general, although imperfect, this album announces the arrival of a major clarinet talent.

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