...on the recent Mozart disc with Colin Lawson, clarinet
The Revolutionary Drawing Room, a string quartet, shapes the Clarinet Quintet's opening, hymnlike chords into a gently moving phrase - not solemnly, as some groups do, like entrance music for Sarastro's clergy - setting the tone for a lithe, subtle performance. Throughout the quintet, the lighter than usual sound of the strings, played with minimal vibrato, creates a balance that showcases the clarinet. Colin Lawson performs on the instrument for which the work was written, the basset clarinet in A, a twisted looking wooden contraption with a metal bell at the end. It looks challenging to hold properly, let alone to play, but it doesn't sound tremendously different from a standard clarinet, just a little less bright, perhaps "woodier". Lawson plays it, and the two other clarinets on this recording, with agility and beautiful tone.
These are the best kind of period-instrument performances; secure and undidactic. Standard tempos are taken; articulation is not exaggerated, just full of subtle variety, intonation is close to perfect. Ornamentation is added in a spontaneous sounding way, but not overused. (On a recent Zig-Zag recording of an interesting two-keyboard arrangement of Mozart's Piano Quartet, K 493, fortepianists Alexei Lubimov and Yury Martinov's exhibitionistic manner of ornamenting alienated me by around the first movement's exposition repeat.)
Aside from the great quintet, Lawson and friends perform four completions of Mozart works for clarinet and strings. The gem among them is the Rondo in A, K 581a, an abandoned draft for the K 581 quintet, which receives its first recording here. Completed by Robert Levin, it comes across as first-rate Mozart. Its main material found a place in Cosi fan Tutte as the practically unsingable tenor aria "Ah lo veggio," and a phrase from its second theme distinctly resembles part of the aria "Deh per questo istante solo" from La Clemenza di Tito. Almost on the same level of musical inspiration is the Allegro in B♭, K 516c, also completed by Levin, for B♭ basset clarinet and strings, a work whose origins indicate that Mozart may have originally conceived of the G-Minor String Quintet, K 516, for clarinet quintet. The Allegro in F, K 580b, in a completion by Franz Beyer for clarinet in C, basset horn, and string trio, is, starting with its main theme, a less-accomplished sounding composition, and overly long, but of interest for its instrumentation. I highly recommend this very rewarding disc.
- Paul Orgel