Jane Booth / Eybler Quartet

Backofen & Mozart: Theme & Variations

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This Canadian historical-instrument release presents three different early clarinets (in replicas), together with music composed expressly for them. Lovers of Mozart's clarinet music may be aware that the instrument was under development as he wrote his clarinet works, which were composed for a unique hybrid of basset horn and clarinet known in English as the basset clarinet (German: Bassetklarinette). The Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, is offered here on that instrument, which permits the sounding of a few notes that have to be finessed in the usual version. It's interesting to hear it this way, for the instrument sharpens the registral contrasts around which both the Clarinet Quintet and the Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, are structured; the modern clarinet smooths these out. The other two works are by little-known German clarinet virtuoso Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen. Composed in the first decade of the 19th century, they are not showpiece works but loose, rangy post-Classical pieces that suggest an incipient early Weber or, as clarinetist Jane Booth suggesed in her notes (in English and French), John Field. The Quintet in F minor at the beginning is written for a genuine basset horn, whose use continued for several more decades (Mendelssohn wrote for it). To the registral contrasts it adds a dark, plaintive tone that is effectively exploited by this quintet in the final variation set. The two-movement Quintet in B flat major for clarinet and strings, Op. 15, features a copy of an 1810 German clarinet, nicely balanced with the strings in another set of variations. Probably of most interest to clarinetists, these straightforward performances can also be recommended to those who want to hear Mozart's quintet in its original guise.

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