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The Consort

David J Golby

Summer 2009, Vol. 65

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Grand Quintetto, arranged from the Clarinet Concerto, K622,
for 2 violins, viola, cello and piano by Christian Friedrich Schwencke
Edition HH, HH.185.FSP, Bicester, 2008 (pbk £27.50)
ISMN 979 0 708059 55 4

What has been said of the quality and format of Christopher Hogwood's edition of the 'Jupiter' arrangement, reviewed above, also applies here. This editor / publisher team is clearly working to great effect. As for the arrangement itself, originally published in Hamburg in about 1805, it does, at least, present some of Mozart's music as a quintet for piano and strings, a medium sadly lacking from Mozart's own original output. Schwencke (1767-1822) was a well-respected figure in his day, a younger contemporary of Mozart, and successor to C P E Bach in Hamburg.

The keyboard is given virtually all of the clarinet (or perhaps, more properly, basset-clarinet) part. This creates a challenge for the pianist, especially in the last movement. An advantage of this scoring, as Hogwood points out, is that with no restriction on range 'we can detect possible remnants of the original basset version' (p.vi). The keyboard also has a full role in the orchestral tuttis, augmenting the texture and dynamic range with frequent full chords and octaves in the left hand. Much of the original string writing is retained but, especially in the second movement with its fairly awkward double stops (the viola gets quite a workout in fifths and octaves), even a great deal of this is transferred into the piano part.

I do have reservations about the amount of non-soloist material given to the piano, accepting that the presence of the flutes, bassoons and horns in the original orchestration has to be represented somehow. In the original, the sequential, antiphonal exchanges between the soloist and strings from bar 17 of the second movement (and again from bar 68) represent one of the most profoundly beautiful sections of the entire piece. Here, the piano plays it all, thus undermining the expressive power that emanates from the original music. The same is true at bar 73 in the Rondo, where first violin material finds its way into the right hand of the piano. This section could have been presented in its original orchestration to great effect.

There are numerous rhythmic and melodic embellishments to be found in the keyboard part, many of which seek to make it more idiomatic and 'showy' for the new instrument, such as when original triplets are converted into semiquaver passagework. One cannot argue with the use of trills to facilitate the sustaining of long notes, and some additions, such as the turns in the right hand of the keyboard and violin parts at the opening and the 'filling out' of 'skeletal' passages (p.vi), could offer, as Hogwood suggests, authentic indications of contemporary performance practices (Professor Colin Lawson's input must have been invaluable in this respect).

I, for one, miss the dappled variation of timbre offered by the original instrument of which Mozart was so fond, and which is so closely tied to the themes themselves, and find that some of the new writing does not provide a wholly satisfying alternative. In the first movement, from bar 134, the semiquaver figuration that is so effective in the chalumeau register of the clarinet, here gets lost as rather inconsequential left-hand passagework. Broken octaves replace simple quavers in bar 90 of the slow movement, and triplet semiquavers are converted into demisemiquavers in the following bar. For a couple of bars from 92 we have a rare example of the original solo part being transferred to the first violin line, before the piano takes over two bars later, ornamenting a simple ascending scalic line with trills.

Idiomatic and laudable, with keen attention paid to changes in texture and register, this arrangement is clearly the work of a highly skilled keyboard player and arranger. By far the most successful movement is the Rondo, where the distinctive timbres are missed less and where there is a much greater congruity with the original in the transfer of the soloist's material, which is frequently running semiquavers. The material itself is far more pianistic in nature and, consequently, offers itself more to creative extemporisation without jarring upon the ear. The scoring of the general pauses in the Rondo is particularly effective, with some of the clarinet's material finding its way into the first violin part once again.

This version of the concerto has genuine scholarly value and offers insights into the dissemination of Mozart's works. It clearly enjoyed some popularity in the 19th century, warranting a second edition in about 1859. It certainly has appeal as a chamber music novelty, or as a very useful alternative means of getting to know the original from the inside. However, it does leave me doubting its wider appeal, and wondering whether a more palatable reduction for modern ears might be created by simply omitting the wind parts, as Mozart himself endorsed in the case of some of his piano concertos.

This is an exemplary edition of a re-working which will not be to everyone's taste. Once again, one is grateful to the publisher for taking the trouble to print three fascinating facsimiles, two of title pages featuring Anton Stadler and one of the opening of the Rondo from the early 19th-century Böhme edition of the Grand Quintetto.

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