Review by steviev October 17, 2013 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
|Second time's a charm for Mr. Frost and the Mozart clarinet concerto. This time the producer/engineer placed the microphones farther from the musicians, and so we hear a lot more of the venue instead of the up-close studioesque perspective we got in Frost's first 2002 go-round. Mr. Frost is not as forward in the mix this time and is more naturally balanced in relation to the orchestra. Orchestra violins are antiphonally divided, which is something I always enjoy -- it just makes the violins sound so much clearer, in my opinion.
Mr. Frost's performance is virtually identical to his first recording, with the exception of the finale where he's noticeably a bit faster. Also, he adds a few graceful ornaments in the slow movement that emphasize its aching tendresse character, but nothing that distracts from the music. There really is such an inevitable and natural flow to this performance, nothing forced, just gorgeous. It is spiritually and sonically the true discmate to Frost's 2002 recording of the clarinet quintet.
I've never loved Mozart's clarinet trio -- it's not a masterpiece on the level of the mature quartets and quintets. This performance is perfectly fine, but flawed. The piano is placed in the center, clarinet a little to the right, and viola to the left. The violist insists on playing virtually every note vibrato-free, which is a mistake because the viola is the homeliest of the string instruments and really needs all the help it can get in the sweetness department. He seems to delight in digging hard into a note, holding it loud and squally, and then rewarding the listener's patience with just a wisp of vibrato at the end of the note. What the heck, man? And in forte unison chords, you can always tell when the viola is involved because the group sounds sour and out-of-tune.
In the seven-minute clarinet quintet movement reconstructed by one Robert Levin, the quartet players also rarely use vibrato. So this movement, which could have sounded so much better, though clearly not top-drawer Mozart, is virtually unlistenable for anyone who likes beautiful tone instead of hidebound period-practice fundamentalism. Thank six-pound eight-ounce baby Jesus that Mr. Frost always plays beautifully in the face of his partners' deliberate ugliness.
While listening to the quintet movement, I was struck by how different the acoustic sounds than the trio. Sure enough, the liner notes confirm that this movement was recorded in a different hall than the trio, which has much closer sound. So basically, the concerto has the most reverberant sound, the quintet the second-most, and the trio has the closest sound.
Five stars for Mr. Frost all the way; five stars for the German Chamber Philharmonic; five stars for Mr. Andsnes on the piano; two stars for Mr. Tamestit on the viola; zero stars, F-minus, for the string quartet. And a big five stars to the engineers and producers, who really nailed it this time.
I'll return to this disc a lot for the concerto, and maybe occasionally for the trio. For the quintet, only masochists need apply.
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