Arcanto Quartett / Jörg Widmann

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet

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The Arcanto Quartet, composed of young European players, has gained attention on both sides of the Atlantic, and there's no disputing the talent of the ensemble. This release of chamber music by Mozart is beautifully recorded at the Teldex Studios in Berlin, and the engineering captures a great deal of detail in the playing. It may be that there's too much detail, and that's for the individual listener to decide. This is the kind of particularizing, atomizing performance that will entrance certain analytical minds and leave other listeners cold. The performances are adept at catching motivic detail and certain aspects of Mozart's use of register that very few other performances have explored. It will come as no surprise that this quartet sometimes performs the chamber music of Anton Webern in concert, for they have a way of making Mozart sound a bit like him. Emotional expression is scrupulously minimized. The slow movement in the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, is given a rather courtly performance that avoids lyricism, and accepting the plain opening movement of the String Quartet in D minor, K. 421, or the minor variation in the finale of the Clarinet Quintet, here requires setting aside the considerable role that overtly dramatic expression played in the music of the Classical period. But again, the Minuet of K. 421 is magical, with its Trio rendered with unbelievable delicacy and contrasting nicely with the Minuet sections, which are as agitated as this quartet gets. On balance, your reaction to this is purely dependent on taste, but it's the kind of recording that's worth hearing on the basis of originality alone. The album's "friendship" theme is unconvincing; Mozart's friendship with Haydn was of an entirely different sort than the one with the clarinetist Anton Stadler.

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