Thursday, February 4, 2010

In review--The Mozart Clarinet Concerto Cure

Jon Manasse (Clarinet) & Seattle Symphony
Mozart and Spohr Clarinet Concertos
Harmonia Mundi

I leap at the chance to review Mozart (1756-1791) recordings because as far as healing music goes, Mozart’s falls at the top of the list. I became a fan of Mozart in recent years because I had to grow into his music and experience life fully before this repertoire made sense to me. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K622 is one of my favorite classical music pieces, if not one of my favorite all-around music pieces period. The second Adagio movement inspired another one of my favorite concertos, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major (which is mostly reflected in the second movement). Both Mozart and Ravel were master orchestrators and employed instrumental voices to their fullest capabilities.

As a former Seattlelite, I felt pleased to discover a Mozart recording with Seattle Symphony on board and Maestro Gerard Schwartz at the helm. Guest soloist Jon Manasse seems at home performing this clarinet concerto and also the concerto by Louis Spohr (1784-1859). Manasse captures the playful spirit of the first movement, darting in and out of Mozart’s famous runs and playing with agility and grace. The clarinetist brings a delicate touch to the second movement with its hint of melancholy and enchantment. And Manasse handles Mozart’s mood swings with aplomb as he shifts back into a playful mode for the final movement. The clarinetist plays masterfully here bringing clarity to the various ranges of his instrument and he nails those runs in the high register with clear honey-colored tones.

Spohr’s Clarinet Concerto no. 2 in E-Flat major, op. 57 is brand new to my ears, but I can hear Mozart influences. And in fact, these two concertos dovetail perfectly into one another. Neither concerto features cadenzas (instrumental solos), and instead the featured instrument (clarinet) leads the orchestra by performing motifs echoed by strings or other woodwinds. Mozart hailed from the Classical era (which followed the baroque). The orchestras were still relatively small, the instruments were predecessors of the orchestra instruments of today (without the range or volume), and the music strove for balance in emotions expressed and in the musical structure. The Romantic era would follow with its star-studded virtuoso cadenzas and passionate musical outbursts.

Mozart’s music though quite complex, sports simple melodic lines performed on lead instruments and echoed by other instruments. A light bed of strings supports the lead instrument with other the voices of other orchestral instruments wrapping and swirling around the lead instrument. Personally, I find these hummable tunes, closer to actual songs than motifs (such as the motif that begins Beethoven’s 5th Symphony of the Romantic Era). I don’t know if these melodies and orchestration lend themselves to the healing power of Mozart’s repertoire, but I feel that these qualities play a huge healing role.

You can never have too many Mozart recordings and certainly adding Mozart and Spohr Clarinet Concertos performed by the masterful clarinetist Manesse is highly recommended.

Harmonia Mundi

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