Badke Quartet / Maximiliano Martín

Brahms, Mozart: Quintets

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Listeners may go through several stages of reaction as they make their way through this traversal of the often-paired clarinet quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which have enough structural parallels to justify at least the guess that Brahms had the earlier piece in his head as he worked. The opening movement of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, with its simple 5-3-2-1 theme exploding almost immediately into unsuspected complications in a very Brahmsian way, is handled with great sensitivity and precision. Maximiliano Martín's clarinet in the slow movement, however, has floated more sweetly and ethereally above the string quartet in other recordings. The rhythmic varieties of the minuet in the third movement are effectively displayed, but the Badke Quartet lets Martín down with a colorless performance of the "weeping" A minor variation that is so surprising in the right hands. One can quibble about the Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, as well; it lacks the surface of Viennese warmth that needs to be there. Yet there are so many compensations. This fascinating late work, which in its opening bars seems intentionally to set itself insoluble problems, receives an unusually detailed performance throughout, and the balances in the vast, intricate Adagio have rarely been done better. Whatever one's complaints, there's an X factor working in this recording's favor: a real sense of struggling with mightily complex music and a rare determination to do it justice.

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