Brahms - Lesley Schatzberger and the Fitzwilliams - BBC Music Magazine
‘Is yet another disc of Brahms Clarinet Quintet really needed?', asks Alan George in his liner note, before discussing what makes this one well-nigh unique: Lesley Schatzberger uses a copy of one of Richard Mühlfeld's boxwood Ottensteiner clarinets from the original performances, and all the players are striving to get back, via the classic Kell/Busch, Thurston/Griller performances, to the original playing style as attested in contemporary reports. Above all, to the rhythmic freedom and strong expressive contrasts Brahms loved. The result is a triumph: the most revelatory version of the piece I've heard in years; animated, dynamic, passionate, with the greater agility and more focused tone of the Ottensteiner clarinet ideally matched to this approach. ‘More confrontational, red-blooded, wilder, at times angrier,' says George, acknowledging that this won't be to everybody's taste. But those of us who have long deplored the late 20th-century tendency to make this masterwork one long indulgence in nostalgia (for instance, David Shifrin and the Emerson Quartet on DG) can only applaud. Despite the eminent virtues of Thea King and the Gabrieli (Hyperion), long my modern favourite, I have no hesitation in naming this the new benchmark, as Kell/Busch (on EMI) remains the historic ones.
The enterprising couplings here are a real bonus: Mozart's unfinished B flat quintet movement in Duncan Druce's idiomatic completion, a fetching Reverie by Glazunov and An Òg-Mhadainn (The Young Morning), an atmospheric piece for basset clarinet and strings by William Sweeney whose Ceol Mor-style keenings show off Schatzberger's virtuosity to the full. Why isn't there more of this gifted composer on disc? For warmth and depth of resonance Linn's recording is perfection.