I'm relatively new to British clarinetist, Julian Bliss. And the more I hear, the more I love his playing. (Incidentally, he studied in the U.S. at Indiana University and subsequently with Sabine Meyer in Germany.)
He possesses an absolutely beautiful tone. If not quite the overtly gorgeous woodiness of Martin Frost, it is clearer, perfectly focused and supported - a simply beautiful, rounded tone. And it is lovely to listen to. No matter the material, there is never a strident high note; never a fruity, unsupported spread. It's not overly dark or thick. Suffice it to say, Julian Bliss has just about the most beautiful, natural clarinet sound you're ever likely to encounter.
And he's so utterly musical too. His Mozart simply sings - as if he's a soprano at the Met expressing her profound love for the tenor. Not melting; not sentimental; simply a natural outpouring of expression via lovely legato lines, punctuated by crisply executed articulation. Again, though, it's not quite so intentionally ravishing, ala Martin Frost. But somehow even more natural in its simplicity. Mr. Bliss does play a basset-clarinet here, with the 4 additional low notes, making this one of the most rewarding accounts of this concerto on record.
And he turns in an exceptional Nielsen too, where his display of virtuosity is never ostentatiously flashy, ala Andreas Ottensamer, but so very musical - serving only the composer's score. This somewhat wayward concerto has not always convinced me of its musical merits, but Mr. Bliss brings a real sense of purpose and direction to it which finally allows this piece to fully make sense. I found it very enjoyable. Conductor Mario Venzago deserves high praise as well, providing insightful and responsive support in both concertos.
The fillers are two Mozart soprano arias, arranged for clarinet by Mr. Bliss himself. They work exceptionally well for clarinet, and sound for all the world as if Mozart wrote them just this way! I enjoyed both ever bit as much as the concertos.
Signum Classics provides excellent recorded sound, with the soloist perfectly placed before the orchestra in a lovely acoustic. The clarinet is not at all spotlit, as it is in their more recent recording of the Mozart for Mark van de Wiel, where his close proximity to the mic in the low notes nearly ruins Mozart's musical line.
It would be difficult to imagine a better recording of these clarinet concertos than this. Indeed, I cannot think of another recording of the Mozart that I enjoy more. I've already listened to this one many times. Julian Bliss is one I will explore further.