Friday, August 22, 2014

A conspicuous star on the clarinet joins forces with the Pacifica Quartet in Mozart and Brahms


Freshly escaped from the troubled Metropolitan Opera organization, where he was the orchestra's principal clarinetist, Anthony McGill now occupies the corresponding position with the New York Philharmonic. (McGill was interviewed this week on the Tavis Smiley Show.)

Chicagoan Anthony McGill performs on Chicago's label.
This luminous recording of the two best pieces for clarinet and string quartet will  raise his artistic profile beyond the reach of the audiences of those two great musical institutions. Cedille Records released in June his collaboration with the Pacifica Quartet on Mozart's Quintet in A major and Brahms' Quintet in B minor.

The emotional and technical synchronization between the string quartet and its guest is consistent and delightful. The repetition of the main theme in the first movement of the Mozart features well-coordinated tugging at the tempo. The interplay between first violinist Simin Ganatra and McGill in the slow movement couldn't represent better the Mozartean knack for characterization.
Best of all is the perky finale, with the nuanced expressive range of its six variations.

In the Brahms, the clarinet is deployed effectively across the breadth of its range. McGill's strength in all registers is unsurpassed.  I liked how the five musicians scrupulously observe the rests in the first movement, making them an essential part of Brahms' rhetoric. The composer's resourceful management of his material is fully respected in this performance; this ensemble digs into every phrase as though it means it.

The spirit carries through the "Con moto" finale, whose heading is scrupulously obeyed with a nicely impelled momentum. A rounded, retrospective quality lent to the closing section, with its recall of the work's very beginning, completes the performance — and brings to a close this perfect partnership,
defined by two masterpieces.