These two clarinet quintets -- the Mozart in A Major, K 581, 'Stadler'; and the Brahms in B Minor, Op. 115 -- are among the greatest chamber music works ever written. Each was written for a clarinet virtuoso -- Anton Stadler in the case of the Mozart, Richard Mühlfeld in the case of the Brahms -- and music lovers everywhere should be eternally grateful to those two instrumentalists for having inspired such glorious music. Each work came late in the composer's life. Of course, Mozart was only thirty-three when he wrote his Quintet but he died less than two years later. Brahms was in the late autumn of his life, actually considering himself to be retired, and the Quintet is one of the extraordinarily mellow works from that period. Each quintet is in four movements and each ends with a set of variations.
The artists on this disc are new to me, at least by name. Clarinetist Karl-Heinz Steffens and his fellows in the Scharoun Ensemble are all members of the Berliner Philharmoniker. (Hans Scharoun was the architect of the wonderful hall the orchestra plays in, the Philharmonie.) They play with uncommon grace and musicality. There is an almost unearthly calmness to these performances, perfect for both pieces. In fact, these recordings are among the best I know of these two masterworks.
Recorded in plain stereo and in SACD, this hybrid SACD disc sounds wonderful in both formats.