MOZART; WEBER Clarinet Quintets
‘How I Met Mozart’: how indeed? Don’t look for answers in the booklet of this CD, which includes several pictures of the young French clarinettist Pierre Génisson looking moody next to walls, and even a full-page advert for Buffet Crampon clarinets, but no biographical details about Génisson and almost nothing about Quartet 212 beyond the bare information that they’re members of the New York Metropolitan Opera orchestra.
Does that matter? Only if you’re interested in following these artists in future, and on the strength of these performances you might well be. Start with the Weber: not quite as common a pairing with the Mozart as you might expect, and sometimes dismissed as a piece of virtuoso froth. From the opening bars, where Génisson glides in from above and settles easily into a lilting melody, to the bubbling, exuberantly over-the-top finish, these players seem to me to strike exactly the right balance of wit and theatricality: surging dramatically towards the climax of the second-movement Fantasia and solving the rhythmic puzzles of the Menuetto with tongues very much in cheek.
It helps that the quartet play with such a clear, slimline sound; their crispness, set against Génisson’s sweet tone and (in the two finales, especially) almost balletic suppleness, gives the Weber, in particular, a delicious piquancy. Génisson doesn’t make a single harsh or strident sound throughout. Regrettably, the Mozart feels noticeably more cautious: this is an elegant, unmannered account that doesn’t milk the emotion – making the ensemble’s more extrovert moments (such as their aggressive forte pianos in the first Trio) feel slightly misplaced, rather than a foretaste of the character and imagination they bring to the Weber.