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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581
Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115

Anthony McGill (clarinet), Pacifica Quartet
Recording: Auer Hall, Indiana University (August 2013) & Performing Arts Center, State University of New York, Purchase (September 2013) – 68'38
Cedille Records CDR 90000 147 – Booklet in English

For a long time, my reference recording for these two seminal chamber works has been Harold Wright's dramatic performances with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. Now that much-worn Philips disc has a worthy companion. Clarinettist Anthony McGill, longtime principal of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, is joining the New York Philharmonic to fill the legendary Stanley Drucker's chair. And what musical organization wouldn't want McGill, whose playing is the epitome of refinement, in their ranks?

There is nothing revolutionary to the interpretations captured here. Instead, the players act as a collective vessel for the melodic, harmonic and structural ingenuity that course through the pieces. Their collective abilities–exquisite tone through all registers, perfect intonation, rhythmic acuity–are used first and foremost to serve the music.

Subtle, large-scale interpretive nuances enhance the performances. In the first movement of the Mozart, the seemingly demure Exposition and Recapitulation envelope an intensely dramatic Development section. The resultant arch shape is wholly convincing. Likewise, in the finale of the Brahms, there is a sense that the players are putting a finer-than-usual point on the metamorphosis of the movement's main theme into the work's opening idea. Moments of athleticism, such as the Presto non assai portion of the third movement of the Brahms, are infectiously vital. In both works' slow movements, McGill spins out impossibly lyrical phrases with a decadent, gorgeous sonority across the instrument's entire range.

For the most part, recorded balance is natural with a warm halo of reverb. The clarinet is highlighted a bit more in the Mozart, while Masumi Per Rostad's viola and Brandon Vamos' cello feature more prominently in the Brahms. All repeats are observed in both works, and the consistent quality of the performances leaves one wanting even more. The booklet notes serve their basic purpose, giving the standard background stories of the pieces for those who need them. In sum, this is a superlative entry in a very crowded field, and fans of this music need not hesitate.

Marcus Karl Maroney




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