After recently being so impressed and musically enriched listening to Julian Bliss play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (signum records, 2014), I decided it might be informative to hear his teacher, Sabine Meyer, play it. I found on my shelves her 1998 live recording with Abbado in an EMI box set. My notation of a previous hearing years ago stated merely "Excellent". I was intrigued to obtain and listen to her earlier recording of it with Hans Vonk, also on EMI - this one being a studio recording from 1990. (She plays the basset-clarinet in both.)
Well, I hear the same unmistakable singing quality I admire so much in Bliss's recording. I also hear the same purity and evenness of tone throughout every register. I also hear the same crispness of articulation. And I hear the same sheer musicianship playing in the lowest register, without a hint of the honking I keep hearing in too many other recordings of this piece. So it is with delight I discover what an astute student Julian Bliss is and what a master his teacher is. In both I hear clarinet playing of the very highest caliber.
But there is more here. Ms. Meyer brings something incredibly special to this music that Mr. Bliss doesn't quite match in his 2014 live recording. And that is an irrepressible, irresistible, effervescent sense of JOY. Joy is the essential ingredient which, to me, positively defines the very best performances of any Haydn or Mozart performance - from solo piano, to chamber music, to full symphonies. The sense of joy must burst forth from the very foundation of the music-making. And Sabine Meyer plays just this way. Joy originates from the very essence of her being - as if she can hardly contain it while playing this music. It is made all the more evident with every minute ornamentation and small filigree she applies here and there. Fortunately, this quality is matched superbly by Hans Vonk (an underrated conductor if ever there was one) and his Staatskapelle Dresden orchestra.
Incredibly, even the Adagio displays this sense of joy, via the most sublime, simple, natural outpouring of musical expression - very much like what I hear in Julian Bliss's recording. And what makes it work so superbly is the free-flowing, moving tempo. Not for a moment does it drag or bog down with too much emoting, as is so often the case.
It is rare that I hear a recording of an over-played piece which moves me as much as this one did. It is rarer still that I can only describe the experience as life-affirming, and so musically-enriching that I can listen to nothing else for quite some time. And EMI's recording, in this 1998 remastering, is excellent, as is the companion Sinfonia concertante in E flat which follows the concerto on this disc.
I recommend this recording with the utmost enthusiasm. I regret having not heard it before now. One day soon, it will be most interesting to listen again to her later recording with Abbado to see how it compares. I don't remember it moving me as this earlier one did, but she just might surprise me!