Sean Osborn

Sean Osborn Plays Mozart

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This disc is an atypical release for the Albany label, which mostly focuses on contemporary music, and it's not just the Mozart compositions that are atypical. The combination of performers might have come off of a 78 rpm album from the 1940s, when big-name chamber groups were rare and a first-chair orchestra player (clarinetist Sean Osborn is a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) might join with a pickup group of other musicians (the Ballard Quartet consists of an Australian, a Russian, and a pair of Americans from different parts of the country). The results are satisfying, and again reflect what a concertgoer of 50 years ago might have heard. The recording lacks the wistful, autumnal quality usually given to the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, retrospectively working back from Mozart's death not long after its composition. Instead, Osborn gives the music a straightforward reading focusing on the difficulty of the clarinet part. This makes sense, for Mozart wasn't planning on dying at 36, and the work is of the virtuosic sort, composed for an instrument with a newly extended range (known as the basset clarinet). Osborn has the easy facility that the older schools of European tuition gave to the wind players who endured them, and he seems to glide through the music. The quartet's backing is neutral, but this fits with the general tone of the recording (although it might have doomed a more emotional reading). The included Quintet for clarinet and strings, K. 496, may either confuse or mislead potential buyers; it is indeed Mozart's music, but it is an arrangement of the Piano Trio in G major, K. 496, and it is not at all clear that the arrangement is by Mozart. The booklet briefly sketches the issues and actually concludes that the arrangement is spurious. Osborn would seem to be right about this; there is a certain lack of integration between soloist and trio that is atypical of Mozart. The pairing with the Clarinet Quintet is a reasonable one, however, and a nice change from the ubiquitous clarinet concerto/clarinet quintet programs. A recommended performance, although it has no shortage of competition.

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