WAM at 250
Dateline: February 27, 2006, Little Rock, Arkansas.
No, not WHAM!, the 1980s boy duo of George Michael and what's-his-name. WAM! - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and today is his 250th birthday. Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756; his full name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Gottlieb Mozart. The composer was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart: named after his grandfather on his mother's side and after the Saint honored on the date his of birth, Johannes Chrysostomus.
Classical musician anniversaries, births and deaths, are events when a musician's life and life's work can be re-examined and appreciated anew with good reason. And what a whopper of a birthday we have to celebrate today. In honor of the anniversary of Mozart's auspicious debut, I have several recordings to recommend, intended to introduce (or re- introduce) this composer of composers to novice and expert alike. These suggestions are by no means what the majority of erudite classical music critics would consider the finest recordings of these compositions. These suggestions represent an odd lot, all having something just a bit askew that serves to endorse these interpretations. I will include at the end of each personal suggestion the recordings recommended by Gramophone magazine for contrast.
Mozart at Tanglewood
Concerto In A For Clarinet And Orchestra, K. 622 (1791)
Quintet In A For Clarinet And Strings, K. 581 (1789)
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch
RCA 68804, 1997
No serious classical music critic is going to claim that these 1956 Tanglewood performances by Benny Goodman are the alpha and omega of Mozart clarinet performance. In fact, more often than not critics deride these performances and by doing so completely miss the point. It is not whether Goodman is note-perfect to the composer's intentions. It is that Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, was playing outside the box and I suspect nothing would have delighted the impishly playful Mozart more.
These performances attest to the expansive talent of Goodman and do make superb, even exciting listening when contrasted with an Anthony Pay, Dame Thea King, or Sabine Meyer performance. Goodman was no stranger to classical music. Contemporary classical composers such as Aaron Copland, Darius Milaud, and Bele Bartok, created concertos and other works for the great swing clarinetist. He also recorded some notable Weber clarinet music. But these Tanglewood performances are special. Goodman is obviously enjoying himself, even within the relatively close confines of the Classical composition strata. Goodman's articulation and modulation are perfectly fluid, betraying is impeccable Swing experience. Maestro Munch and the orchestra provide Goodman the necessary latitude to flex without being gauche. In a word, Goodman makes Mozart Dance.
Beethoven Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61 [performed on clarinet]
Mozart Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, K622, Michael Collins, clarinet, Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev, Deutsche Grammophon 457 652-2GH.
Brahms Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 115, Mozart Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K581, David Shifrin. Clarinet, Emerson String Quartet, Deutsche Grammophon CD 459 641-2GH.
Horowitz Plays Mozart
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 23 in A major, K. 488 (1786)
Piano Sonata In B Flat Major, K. 333 (1784)
La Scala Symphony Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini
Deutsche Grammophon 23287, 1990
The Last Romantic, Vladimir Horowitz and... Mozart? Horowitz, considered the greatest high-wire act in 20th Century pianism was one of the greatest interpreters of Chopin, Liszt, Rachmananov, and Scriabin, all Romantics, early and late, to be sure. So, what is enigmatic Horowitz doing with Mozart and with another bona fide romantic, Maestro Giulini. Throughout his long successful career, Horowitz always had a major soft spot for selected Baroque and Classical composers Scarlatti, Clementi, Haydn and, yes, Mozart. And as one would expect, Horowitz plays these composers romantically. Horowitz's coda on the Mozart Piano Sonata In B Flat Major, K. 333 on his fabulous Horowitz in Moscow (Deutsche Grammophon 19499, 1990) sounds like a Liszt transcription of Schubert Leider, odd and beautiful. That same cross-period tempering is found on Horowitz Plays Mozart.