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Concilium Musicum Wien

[I] Joseph & Michael HAYDN, Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART: Orchestral works
Ernst Schlader, basset clarineta
Concilium Musicum Wien
Dir: Paul Angerer
rec: Nov 13, 2012 (live), Vienna, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Festsaal)
Gramola - 98967 (© 2012) (65'42")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Score Haydn H,101

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Symphony in D 'The Clock' (H I,101); Johann Michael HAYDN (1737-1806): Symphony No. 39 in C (P 31/MH 478); Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Concerto for basset clarinet and orchestra in A (KV 622)a

[II] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART, Peter VON WINTER, Johann Georg Heinrich BACKOFEN: Quartet and quintets
Concilium Musicum Wien
rec: Nov 15 - 18, 2011, Vienna, Mozarthaus
Gramola - 98944 (© 2012) (73'25")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Georg Heinrich BACKOFEN (1768-1830): Quintet for basset horn, 2 violins, viola and cello in F, op. 9c; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Allegro for basset clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello in A (KV Anh 91) (ed. P. Angerer)b; Quintet for basset clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello in A (KV 581)b; Peter VON WINTER (1754-1825): Quartet for clarinet, violin, viola and cello in E flata

Ernst Schlader, clarineta, basset clarinetb, basset hornc; Christoph Angerer, violinbc, violaa; Paul Angerer, violina, violabc; Robert Neumann, violinbc; Ute Groh, celloabc

In 1982 Paul Angerer founded the ensemble Concilium musicum Wien with the purpose of performing music from the 18th and 19th centuries on period instruments. According to the booklet it played no less than 670 compositions by 310 composers. Over the years I have come across various of its discs, many of which include little-known music from the classical period. At the occasion of its 30th anniversary a concert took place in the Festsaal of the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Vienna, and this has been released on disc by Gramola. Considering the preference for little-known repertoire the programme of the concert was rather conventional, with two of the most famous works of the classical period, Haydn's Symphony No. 101 and Mozart's Concerto for basset clarinet.

The score of the latter as written by Mozart has been lost and can only be played at the instrument for which it was conceived if it is reconstructed. The instrument for which it Mozart composed this concerto has also to be reconstructed, as no basset clarinet from his time has been preserved. This has all been done before, so there is nothing new about a performance on the basset clarinet. Ernst Schlader is a specialist on historical clarinet instruments, and recently I have reviewed several recordings in which he participated. He plays the solo part nicely and shows his mastery of the basset clarinet, but as a whole this is not a really compelling performance. There is too little differentiation and contrast, and I am especially disappointed by the contribution of the orchestra. It plays well, but the contours of the orchestral part remain a bit vague. There are too few accents and the articulation is not clear enough. It has to be said that this is also due to the acoustic, which is very reverberant as a result of which too many details are lost.

The same problem damages the performance of the Symphony No. 101 by Franz Joseph Haydn, one of the 'London' symphonies which was first performed in March 1794. It received its nickname The Clock because of the 'ticking' in the andante which runs through all the instruments. This movement lacks some subtlety in Concilium musicum Wien's performance. Considering the strong competition I can't see any reason to specially recommend this disc with two masterpieces from the classical period in performances which are alright, but nothing more. What makes this disc interesting after all is the first work, the Symphony in C by Johann Michael Haydn. He was Joseph's younger brother and a good friend of Mozart's. His oeuvre is not fully explored as yet, and it is mostly his chamber music and some of his sacred vocal works which now and then are performed and recorded. His orchestral music is well worth listening to, as this symphony proves. It dates from 1788 and it is one of his few symphonies with parts for trumpets and timpani, which also participate in the andante - quite unusual for the time. These lend this work a special character, for instance in the beautiful finale, which is a fugato.

The second disc comprises chamber music with three members of the clarinet family. In his essay on these instruments Ernst Schlader states that "[By] virtue of the institutionalization of orchestras, music societies and training facilities, during the 19th century the instruments known today supplanted many special forms and custom products". The previous eras saw a far greater variety of instruments which largely disappeared during the 19th century. That goes also for two of the instruments played here: the basset horn and the basset clarinet.

The basset horn was quite popular at the end of the 18th century, but disappeared soon after the turn of the century. Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen explores the sweet and rounded sound of the basset clarinet in the first movement of the Quintet in F, op. 9 which is contrasted with the much sharper sound of the strings. There is more unity of sound in the next two movements. In the closing andante with variations the strings give decent support to the basset horn and play a kind of ritornello at the end of every variation. The basset horn brings the work to its end alone. Backofen himself was a player of the basset horn and the clarinet, for which he also wrote a method. He did the same for the harp, another instrument he had learned to play, as well as the flute. He acted as a travelling clarinettist, a teacher of the harp and a manufacturer of clarinets.

This quintet is followed by the Quartet in E flat by Peter von Winter, a piece in three movements which ends with a playful polonaise. Von Winter is another contemporary of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven whose considerable oeuvre is largely unexplored as yet. He was born in Mannheim where he received his education from members of the court's famous orchestra which he soon joined as a player of the violin and the double bass. For most of his life he worked in Munich and composed a large oeuvre for the stage. His output of chamber music is rather small; this quartet is his only work with a part for the clarinet.

The two pieces by Mozart which are played at the basset clarinet, allow the direct comparison between the two instruments. The Quintet in A is one of Mozart's most popular chamber music compositions. The performance is more convincing and satisfying than that of the concerto, which is partly due to the more appropriate acoustical environment, but also the more vivid, contrasting and dynamically differentiated playing of the strings. The opening of the last movement, a theme with variations, seems a bit too slow, though.

Mozart's oeuvre includes a number of fragments. We mostly don't know why these compositions have remained unfinished. One of these is an Allegro in A which dates from 1787, and has the same scoring as the Quintet in A. This piece has been recorded several times in various reconstructions; here Paul Angerer presents his edition.

The performances of Mozart's works are good, but the quintet is available in many recordings, among them several on the basset clarinet (for instance by Eric Hoeprich). However, as the other two compositions are not part of the standard repertoire of classical chamber music, this disc can be unequivocally recommended. It is the more interesting and musically most satisfying of these two discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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