Australia Ensemble

Mozart, Brahms: Clarinet Quintets

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Mozart, Brahms: Clarinet Quintets Review

by Mike D. Brownell

The clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms bear a number of similarities and make ideal companions for each other on an album. Both works were inspired by and written for clarinet virtuosos that each composer had at their disposal. Mozart and Brahms wrote not only their respective quintets for these musicians, but a host of other chamber works (and in the case of Mozart, the clarinet concerto, as well). Both quintets put the spotlight primarily on the clarinet, and the instrumentation sometimes gives the impression of a miniaturized orchestration for a smaller-scale clarinet concerto. There are formal similarities as well -- both Brahms and Mozart ended their compositions with a set of variations.

Also similar on this album is the ensemble's approach to both pieces. The Mozart is quite romanticized and lush. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- the performance decisions are still tasteful -- but listeners who may be looking for a lighter, more period sound may not find this as acceptable. Clarinetist Catherine McCorkill takes the spotlight well in both works. Her sound is very clear, almost glass-like, and her tone is even and pleasant across the wide range of the instrument. The string quartet accompaniment is just that -- an accompaniment. The strings are still given individual chances to stand out in the two variation sets, but this particular ensemble does not capitalize on the opportunity and remains too much in the background.

The most significant problem with this particular album is that the third movement of the Brahms is missing, as in the entire track is absent from the disc. So while the playing is certainly satisfactory, this isn't a case of you get what you pay for.

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