Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst's Mozart: Clarinet Concerto / Clarinet Quintet in A Major was released on September 1, 2003 on BIS Records. The album sees Fröst play two masterworks: Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and his Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings.
The concerto, easily the most famous piece for clarinet, has never been dull in Fröst's hands. Indeed his rise to superstardom is largely due to his stunning performances of the work, a premier example of which is this recording with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. Right off the bat, from the solo part's memorable opening, Fröst's shaping of melody is sensuous yet never overdone. His choice to perform with the longer basset clarinet, for which the piece was written, bolsters phrasing as well -- arpeggios and melodies follow their natural contours rather than jumping suddenly by an octave.
Fröst's phrasing is just one example of his great sense of taste, which is highlighted in his cadenza toward the end of the first movement's exposition -- impressive yet graceful, short and sweet. Even if he goes overboard with a flashy cadenza in the recapitulation and another that is just too long in the second movement, you'll forgive him when you hear his otherworldly pianissimos. Excellent throughout, the ensemble and conductor Peter Oundjian show their restraint in these moments, never overpowering the soloist.
Grace is Fröst's calling card throughout the recording, but you might wish the ensemble had taken a slightly more brash approach in the quintet, which sees Fröst joined by the Vertavo String Quartet. Fröst's playing is astonishing, especially in the mysterious second theme of the opening movement, but the ensemble simply tends to lack energy. At times this seems like a valid choice -- by holding back, they give themselves space to grow in dynamics and intensity. Musically easing back in their seats seems to become a habit for the group, however, and you'll wish for more moments of verve like the racehorse close to the piece, an ending which would bring any audience to its feet.