MOZART: Clarinet Concerto • Clarinet Quintet
David Shifrin, clarinet
Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Mostly Mozart Orchestra
Chamber Music Northwest: Ida Kavafian, violin • Theodore Arm, violin • Toby Apel, violin • Fred Sherry, cello.
Mozart’s original versions – played on an extended-range clarinet
RECORD OF THE YEAR —Stereo Review
RECORDING OF DISTINCTION “Listening to this superb recording of these two great works is like hearing them for the first time…the entire disc is a gem. Not to be missed.” —Ovation
“David Shifrin is one of the world’s great clarinetists. If there is a bel canto school of clarinet playing, Shifrin is surely its finest exponent.” —Los Angeles Times
David Shifrin and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto — forever intertwined? To us at Delos, and to countless music lovers around the world, the answer is yes. To all who know David personally, a clue to his identification with this concerto can even be found in his email address. A member of the Delos staff used to call him “Mr. 3020” in honor of the Concerto’s Delos catalog number. On many levels, this recording from our early digital years holds a unique place among the Delos Evergreens.
Delos founder Amelia Haygood and I first came to know David through his work with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, then under the directorship of Gerard Schwarz. Jerry had assembled a remarkable group of wind players in that orchestra, and David’s wonderful “bel canto” playing was unsurpassed. David began to discuss with Amelia his somewhat revolutionary idea of recording Mozart’s masterpiece on a special extended-range clarinet. The instrument was made especially for David, and allowed him to play Mozart’s clarinet solo in its reconstructed original version. Amelia was all for it.
David and Jerry recorded the concerto in New York City in 1984, at the Masonic Temple Auditorium, with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra. David was at that time music director of Chamber Music Northwest, so deciding on the companion piece, the Clarinet Quintet, and the finest players to do it, came quite naturally. It was one of many recordings we did with New York-based producer/engineer team Joanna Nickrenz and Marc Aubort, who brought their expertise and enthusiasm to the mix. Nothing got past Joanna’s sharp ears. Marc, who hailed from French Switzerland (and told us funny stories about his first days in New York), was known on both continents as an outstanding engineer, and captured the sound in a way that memorialized its glow.
Once this milestone recording was released, it had worldwide impact (see extensive review quotes below), which continues to this day. This version of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto helped to put David on the musical map, and was the beginning of an entire series of Delos chamber music recordings with David, his Chamber Music Northwest, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, of which he was for many years Music Director. Both of these important series will be the subjects of future posts.
1984 also saw the recording of two more of David’s signature pieces, the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas (DE 3025). During the summer David, Bösie (my Bösendorfer Imperial) and I found ourselves in the Santa Ana, California High School Auditorium with Amelia and recording guru John Eargle, who was to become our longtime Delos Director of Recording. John’s miking captured everything with such clarity that David was afraid it would pick up the sound of his knees cracking when he bent them ever so slightly in the course of his beautiful Brahms phrasing. While Bösie was feeling comfortable in the venue, we went ahead and recorded the Mozart and Beethoven Piano/Wind Quintets (DE 3024) with three other outstanding wind players from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: Allan Vogel, oboe; Robin Graham, French horn and Ken Munday, bassoon. David and his three wind-player friends shone and sang and romped exquisitely in both the Mozart and the Beethoven, and this recording also became a Delos favorite. Allan also went on to make a number of highly prized oboe recordings for Delos.
Reviews of DE 3020, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with David Shifrin:
“These performances come as close to being ideal as any in my experience. Shifrin hits almost unbelievable peaks of beauty again and again. His tastes are impeccable at every moment, and the sound he produces is a revelation in just how beautifully the clarinet can be played. He does for his instrument what Flagstad did for our concept of Wagnerian sopranos. Shifrin also seems to have inspired his colleagues, for both accompaniments are outstanding in every respect, and the recording superb. Highest possible recommendation.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Record of the Year. How musicologists have arrived at these reconstructions of the original versions of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto makes for fascinating reading in the notes to this CD, but what truly distinguishes the disc is the glowing performances it contains. Clarinetist David Shifrin approaches both works in the highest bel canto style, with a seamless, long-line legato enhanced by a velvety tone. Both the Chamber Music Northwest (in the quintet) and the Mostly Mozart Orchestra (in the concerto) follow his lead and imbue the performances with a mellowness that does not obscure the melancholy lying below the surface of these late mature works.” Stereo Review
“If there is a bel canto school of clarinet playing, Shifrin is surely its finest exponent. In the Mozart, he etched a legato line of impeccably fluid grace and subtle inflection… Shifrin traversed the gamut of his instrument with uncanny equanimity. Striking leaps, from the lowest bass notes to pitches in his flutelike upper range maintained their silver timbre and purity.
“Shifrin was aided in this concerto by a specially designed instrument, one whose length and range was extended below that of the standard B-flat clarinet. With several additional baritone notes at his command, Shifrin was able to execute the piece more closely to the way Mozart originally composed it. The whole concerto took on a new depth, and the expanded range for the solo instrument placed Mozart’s ideas in even bolder relief.” Los Angeles Times
“There is a new name to remember – David Shifrin from New Yo
rk who, despite his youth, has already reached the very top. At the age of 23, he was first clarinetist with the Cleveland Orchestra. Since then he has been guest soloist with many other major American and European orchestras and has made a number of recordings. His playing of the A-Major Mozart Clarinet concerto – an ethereal piece – can be matched by no one else. His dream-like, soft precision of tone, his ringing warmth and his musical and instrumental ripeness of intonation, made his acrobatic feat seem facile. No difficulties stood in David Shifrin’s way. What a delight to listen to him!” Die Welt (Berlin) (translation)
Ara Guzelimian wrote in the album notes:
“All clarinettists owe an enormous debt of gratitude to 18th-century clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753-1812); because of his remarkable abilities and his friendship with Mozart, the repertory for the instrument has been infinitely enriched. The clarinetist and the composer began a musical collaboration in 1784 that culminated in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in 1789 and the Clarinet Concerto in 1791.
“The Clarinet Concerto was the last major work Mozart was to complete. As Alfred Einstein writes, “the greatness and transcendent beauty of this work are such as its high Köchel number would lead us to expect. One almost has the impression that Mozart felt impelled to express again, in greater and dramatically animated form, what he had already expressed in more lyric form . . . in the Quintet.” Mozart surely knew the extent of his final illness while writing this work; it is profoundly personal in tone, a heartbreaking sadness underlying the utter serenity of the music.
“The manuscripts for both the quintet and concerto had disappeared by the time Constanze Mozart set about having inventories made of her husband’s works. When an early edition of the concerto was published by Breitkopf and Härtel in 1802, an anonymous reviewer in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung noted that “Mozart composed this concerto for a clarinet going down to the c ” [a range lower than the conventional clarinet]. He pointed out that certain parts had to be transposed and acknowledged the work of the editors “for those transpositions and variations for the usual clarinet.” And so, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto became known in a standardized edition which included substantial changes from the composer’s original. The question of the extended range – those notes beyond the reach of the standard clarinet in A – remained a mystery.
“During the late 1940’s, scholars in England and Czechoslovakia began a methodical study of the clarinet writing in the concerto, paying careful attention to those passages where ascending or descending scale patterns seem to have been “dislocated.” It became apparent that the missing original of Mozart’s concerto was intended not for the clarinet as we know it but for an unusual extended-range clarinet which included four notes lower than the standard instrument. Stadler himself was known to own such a specially-adapted instrument, a relative to the then-common basset-horn. [Some modern commentators take note of this by calling the hybrid, extended-range clarinet a “basset clarinet.”] In addition, Mozart’s own incomplete sketch for the basset-horn concerto, K. 584b, provided a valuable model for how he scored the solo passagework for the lower-range instrument.
“Armed with this information, several scholars have since published careful, imaginative reconstructions of the original clarinet parts for both the quintet and concerto. The differences are more readily apparent in the concerto, where the revised solo passages often dip down into the instrument’s distinctive lower range; in the quintet, the changes are minimal. In the performances recorded here, David Shifrin plays on an extended-range clarinet built for him by the distinguished wind instrument maker Leonard Gullotta.”