Gerard Hoffnung CDs
Clarinet Concerto in A major, K 622 (1791) [32:22]
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K 183 (1773) [24:25]
Wiener Philharmoniker/Leonard Bernstein
Director: Humphrey Burton
rec. Konzerthaus, Vienna, 1-2 September 1987 (concerto), Grosser
Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, 1-4 October 1988 (symphony).
Sound formats PCM Stereo, DD5.1, DTS 5.1.
Picture format NTSC 4:3.
Disc format DVD 5.
Region code 0 (all regions).
EUROARTS 2072088 [58:52]
Bernsteinís approach to Mozartís Clarinet
lithe and flexible, smooth but also lightly articulated with
a dancing pulse to the first movement introduction, graced
by glowing horns and golden-toned strings. Soloist Peter
Schmidl, then principal clarinettist with the Vienna Philharmonic,
is a fitting match in smoothness and fluency, yet as soon
as the melancholy arrives with the second solo passage (tr.
2 3:31) heís also soulful through just a touch more poise
without any overall loss of momentum. The fermata, those
short pauses for soloist embellishment (5:18 and 11:52),
are simply and tastefully decorated. The coloratura style
passages - e.g. from 6:01 - are striking enough without being
riotous. The only limitation is that Schmidl uses a standard
clarinet rather than the basset clarinet for which the concerto
was originally written. This is preferable, not only because
the range of notes available downwards is extended by 4 semitones,
but also because the overall tone colour is thereby darkened.
One example where lower notes would likely have been used
is at tr. 1 7:31, where Sharon Kam using a basset clarinet
in the DVD I refer to below displays them (her tr. 3 14:03).
Schmidlís slow movement is a soft-grained mellifluous song,
relaxed yet still flowing, the second section of the opening
melody of especially melting tone (tr. 3 15:04 in continuous
timing). In the central section there are again passages
which would be enhanced by the lower register of the basset
clarinet - e.g. at 17:25, 17:43 (as shown by Kam at her tr.
4 22:53, 23:08). But Schmidlís sotto voce return of
the opening melody is rapt with sympathetically assenting
strings and the coda serenely expressive.
The rondo finale is light and deft, notable for its refinement,
wistfully savoured, as if Schmidl and Bernstein are dwelling
on this being Mozartís last instrumental work. The relaxation
of the first episode (tr. 4 23:34) seems to set this mood.
The basset clarinet register is preferable at 25:56 (cf.
Kam at her tr. 5 30:23).
compared the 2006 DVD by Sharon Kam and the Czech Philharmonic/Manfred
Honeck (Euroarts 2055158). Here are the comparative timings:
and Bernstein, then, are consistently more expansive, Kam
and Honeck more animated. With Honeck the emphasis is on
vibrant counterpoint and cleaner, more incisive orchestral
sound. Kam conveys both energy and lyricism, if not quite
the soulfulness of Schmidl. Bernstein finds more humour in
the orchestral introduction and vertical clarity throughout,
whereas Honeckís thrust is focused on horizontal clarity.
Bernstein therefore shapes the sound more dramatically. The
outcome is that with Bernstein one feels the orchestra is
a key ingredient in the expression, even if the sonority
at times goes beyond the classical proportions Honeck scrupulously
maintains. Thereís also a sense of dancing agility from Schmidl,
partly because he moves around even more than most clarinettists.
A moment of sheer fun too, as he smiles as he ornaments the
leap between two notes (tr. 2 8:30).
the slow movement thereís something strangely attractive
about the pure tone of Schmidl contrasting with the rich,
warm and full-toned orchestra. Yet Bernstein knows when to
reduce that tone, for maximum effect, accompanying Schmidlís sotto
voce return of the opening theme. Honeckís leaner orchestral
tone is more historically aware but his faster tempo sounds
comparatively forced, the tension arising from working at
producing the lilting opening, so there isnít the feel of
inevitable flow of song that Schmidl and Bernstein catch.
Honeckís approach is more suited to the finale which he and
Kam present crisp and lively, quite bubbling, and yet also
with good use of the basset clarinetís lower register in
the second episode, as mentioned earlier. Schmidl and Bernstein
show more lightness of touch, blossoming from time to time
but always returning to a manner of blithely dancing gaiety.
Appreciation of their performance is enhanced by seeing it.
This is unabashed, joyous music-making.
No. 25 is Mozartís first symphonic
masterpiece, unmatched in tragic foreboding and contrasting
consolation until his other symphony in G minor, No. 40.
Bernstein presents its first movement in quite a lean sound,
stimulating and emphatic in its agitation but expansive
enough to allow the oboe solo version of the opening theme
(tr. 5 33:40) a wanly sympathetic, poetic calming effect
within the strict frame. The hornsí rapid imitative response
at 34:05 to the first violinsí second theme is given full
sonority but the second violins imitating the first violins
from 34:18 might be a little clearer before both excitingly
join in cascades at 34:34. The stark development is becalmed
by another poignant oboe solo and then pitying upper stringsí reflection,
nicely gauged. The second half of the movement isnít repeated.
slow movement, a reasonably flowing Andante from Bernstein,
features winsome muted violins and warm bassoons in tow.
Itís tender, sweet and delicate. The clouds that appear in
the second section are comfortingly dispelled. Bernsteinís
Minuet is quite slow and stern, rigorous, a Minuet of declamation
yet with neat dynamic contrasts too. The Trio, for 2 oboes,
2 bassoons and 2 horns, is here presented as an idyll in
G major in its own leisurely time. In the finale itís back
to declamation and more severe because pacier. Yet there
are lighter moments, like the first violinsí brief, lilting
second theme (tr. 8 52:38) before the full orchestra onslaught.
The second half of this movement isnít repeated.
compared the 1978 DVD of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted
by Karl BŲhm (Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4132). Here are
the comparative timings:
the first movement BŲhm obtains a tenser string sound, a
melodious but less calming, more tragic oboe solo, clearer
interplay between first and second violins and stricter stringsí cascades
and measure generally of formidable concentration and Olympian
objectivity. His countenance remains aloof. Bernstein, on
the other hand, provides a gallery of facial expressions
as he relishes the workís power, drama and contrast, with
charm in full measure and a winking grace given the second
part of the second theme (tr. 5 34:49). BŲhm is recorded
in a moderate sized unnamed palatial chamber and his approach
is similarly classically contained. Bernstein demonstrates
the main hall of the Musikvereinís more opulent sonority
is fitting for the magnitude of this work and takes full
advantage of the four horns Mozart calls for. His stringsí cascades
are more thrilling.
BŲhmís slow movement looks faster, in fact itís slightly
slower as he makes no repeats whereas Bernstein repeats both
halves. The exact comparative timings Iíve therefore given
in brackets above. BŲhm presents it with pristine simplicity,
sweet and lilting but Bernstein is lighter and more tender,
revealing more density, more nuance to the harmony, as well
a particular delight in the violinsí demisemiquaver and semiquaver
passages (the first at. tr. 6 42:07) towards the end of both
Minuet is stately with firm articulation, his Trio slightly
faster but equally precise, almost abstract. Bernstein is
more flexible, his Minuet imposing yet not so heavy, with
a more dramatic pulse yet notably lighter shading of the
quieter second phrase and the later quiet passages as if
the tragic and hopeful are vying. His slower Trio has room
to breathe and blossoms.
finale starts steadily, saving its bursts of fire for the
passages in which Mozart adds the wind instruments. The second
theme is elegant. Bernstein is lighter, swifter, again more
contrasted in mood, more energetic than tragic. He makes
the second theme really dance as he shimmies with it, a fleeting,
happy interlude. Again the DVD enhances appreciation of the
interpretation. By seeing how involved in the musicís every
turn Bernstein is, you become more involved in his performance.
Bernsteinís view of Mozart is essentially an early romantic
one, Beethoven-like with an emphasis on Viennese glow, but
itís very persuasive, revealing a greater range of mood and
dimension than the lucidly classical approach. The
performances on this DVD are available on CD (Deutsche Grammophon
4292212). In either format the sound is crisp and vivid,
though the surround sound available on the DVD is slightly
airier. The CD also includes Symphony No. 29, which makes
it a more generous full price issue than this DVD, but this
is the Clarinet Concertoís first appearance on DVD.
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