Lesley Schatzberger and Fitzwilliam String Quartet - Brahms Clarinet Quintet - Atlanta Audio Society

From our friends in Glasgow, Linn Records comes a gorgeous new offering that shows just what multichannel SACD was developed to do. Here, clarinetist Lesley Schatzberger performs with the Fitzwilliam String Quartet in a rich program that begins with Brahms' great Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op.115, followed by Mozart's Quintet Movement in B-flat, Alexander Glazunov's Reverie Orientale, Op.14/2 and an attractive new piece by William Sweeney.

Though classical listeners on this side of the Atlantic may not be aware of it, the Fitzwilliam has long been recognized as one of the world's premier string quartets. Never have they sounded better than in the Brahms Quintet. The multichannel recording really captures their ideal blend in this work, both in the vibrant, strongly underscored lines and the delicate wisps of melodies that seem to trail off into the mist, with Ms. Schatzberger's full-bodied clarinet weaving its way between the string lines, producing moments of true enchantment that will linger in the memory for a long time after hearing them. Forget about the traditional critical soft soap about the prevailing "autumnal" mood of this work. It's true, up to a point - but then we have a moment of intensely charged drama in the second variation of the Adagio that Wagner himself might have envied.

Mozart's Quartet Movement, listed as Anh. 91 in the Köchel catalog, is a bit of a mystery, as it breaks off in mid-measure at the end of the manuscript. The modern-day completion by Duncan Druce is plausible, witty, and persuasive, leading one to wonder why Mozart never incorporated it into a finished work. Glazunov's Reverie Orientale is an exotic piece, its spell-binding melismas steeped in the "orientalism" that was then the rage. For the composer's Russian contemporaries, that meant the music of the Caucasus tribes, rather than the Far East. It is a pure delight, the more so for being so unfamiliar.

The Sweeney piece is entitled An Og-Mhadainn (The Young Morning). The Gaelic is somewhat misleading as this is purely a mood piece, with no national or historical associations. Written for basset clarinet, it is both ingenious and charming, being a set of variations on a melodic idea that provides its own atmospheric accompaniment in the bass. So clearly defined are Ms. Schatzberger's registers that it seems as if she were playing two separate instruments, an impossibility made plausible

Atlanta Audio Society
01 February 2007