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Reviews: Mozart, Brahms: Clarinet Quintets - Steffens, Scharoun Ensemble

Reviews: 1

Review by nickc March 28, 2008 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The two greatest clarinet chamber works in the repertoire, perhaps the two greatest chamber works of either composer. Karl-Heinz Steffens has a beautiful, liquid tone which is just a joy to listen to, and the Scharoun Ensemble are fully equal partners.

Unfortunately if you play the Brahms at a reasonable listening level at the 2'40" mark of the first movement you will have the misfortune of being aurally assaulted by some of the harshest string tone you would hope not to hear on SACD. Bizarrely Steffens' clarinet still sounds perfect, and unlike the over-miking of Martin Frost on some of his SACDs there is never of a hint of hissing from the clarinet. Turn the volume down in the Brahms but it is by no means smooth string tone. The first movement is also very broad at 13'19" - a full two minutes slower than my old Philips' Belin Philharmonic Octet recording from the 70s.

Thankfully the Mozart, recorded six months earlier and in a different venue, has none of those problems - once again proving that the venue may be the single most important factor in sound reproduction. Here the string sound is much smoother, though perhaps not reference level. What great playing again, though the competing Frost BIS disc seem to find a bit more in the variation finale.

Recommendable? When I first played the Brahms I winced, but subsequent playings at a more modest level has ameliorated that somewhat, and Steffens' tone (mercifully free of any extraneous noises which I was beginning to fear were endemic to the instrument via the greater transparency of SACD) is always a joy to listen to. 5/5 for playing, 2.5/5 sound for the Brahms, 4.5/5 sound for the Mozart. Yes, with those reservations.

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