Wolfgang Meyer

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet; Kegelstatt Trio

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Mozart: Clarinet Quintet; Kegelstatt Trio Review

by James Manheim

This 1992 recording of two clarinet works by Mozart has richly merited reissue. The Quintet for clarinet and strings in A major, K. 581, and the Trio for clarinet, viola, and piano in E flat major, K. 498 ("Kegelstatt" -- the closest translation into American English would be bowling pin), are recorded by members of the Quatuor Mosaïques, clarinetist Wolfgang Meyer, and keyboardist Patrick Cohen on period instruments. At this point in time the instruments, except for the fortepiano, aren't far removed in sound from their modern cousins. Meyer plays a basset clarinet, which has a few notes of added lower range and a somewhat reedier, more cutting sound than a modern clarinet; its shifts in register are quite pronounced, and Meyer brings out points in the music (hear especially the variation finale of the Clarinet Quintet) where Mozart seems to have been exploiting this characteristic of the instrument's sound.

More than a case in which historical instruments reproduce the music's intended textures, this is simply a wonderfully sensitive performance of two of Mozart's subtlest masterworks. Perhaps the more remarkable is the reading of the "Kegelstatt" trio, where Mozart's magically shifting deployment of his odd trio of instruments (the work's forces were unique at the time and nearly remain so) is rendered with a light playfulness that is absolutely compelling. The first movement, which comes closer to the ideal of chamber music as a conversation than most of the string quartets that inspired the metaphor, is a sequence of temporary balancing points that bring to mind a bird alighting and then repeatedly taking flight. The scampering quality of the trio section of the second-movement minuet would be lost in a less precise performance. The Clarinet Quintet is also very nicely detailed. Cohen and the Quatuor Mosaïques avoid an interpretation that retrospectively assigns an "autumnal" quality to the late works of Mozart, who did not plan to die at 36. The shaping of their phrases carries straight through seemingly conventional cadence material, not laying the melodies on too thick but not discounting the work's genuinely spiritual qualities, either -- annotator Jean Gallois points to the clarinet's status as the instrumental voice of Mozart's Masonic beliefs. These rich, intricate readings are perhaps definitive ones, and it's great to have the recording available once again.

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