GREAT CHAMBER SYMPHONIES
The Camerata RCO (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam) will give us a royal treat: its nine instrumentalists will be performing great works of chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Bruckner.—
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Clarinet quintet in A major K. 581
Anton Bruckner (1824–1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major WAB 107 (movements I and III arranged by Hanns Eisler; movement II by Erwin Stein; movement IV by Karl Rankl)
Do you really need a huge symphony orchestra, 100-strong, for a Bruckner symphony? Not when it’s played by the Camerata RCO, members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. They here play a chamber arrangement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 – one of his most significant works, and one that helped him to his breakthrough as a composer. This arrangement dates from 1921 and was made by three young composers: Hanns Eisler (movements I and III), Erwin Stein (II) and Karl Rankl (IV). They were commissioned by none other than Arnold Schoenberg, who wanted to offer the Bruckner arrangement in the concerts of his famous “Association for private musical performances” in 1921. This Association aimed to present performances of contemporary music in a scandal-free environment, before a paying public, but without the critical presence of the press; neither applause nor expressions of discontent were allowed among the public, and no reviews were to be published. But the concert in question never came about, because the Association went bankrupt shortly before the three composers finished their work.
In the meantime, this arrangement – which the Camerata RCO released on CD in 2021 – has become a real insider’s tip. Bruckner’s profound, spiritual work, suffused with pathos, takes on a whole new quality in this arrangement. The orchestral sound becomes transparent, while the use of piano and harmonium allow it to exude a charming hint of salon music that is perhaps reminiscent of the famous sound of the salon ensembles of St Mark’s Square in Venice.
The second work on this programme, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, is also a product of a collaboration between famous friends. Mozart wrote this work for Anton Stadler, a friend and fellow freemason at his Lodge, and a clarinettist in both the orchestra of the Burgtheater in Vienna and in the Emperor’s court wind band. Stadler was famous for his beautiful tone on the clarinet, and helped to establish his relatively young instrument in the orchestra. Presumably on account of his appearance when blowing his instrument, Mozart nicknamed him “Ribieslgesicht” (“redcurrant face”). The combination of clarinet and string quartet was completely new at the time. Jörg Widmann – one of the best-known clarinettists of our own time – has commented on a variation in the forth movement of Mozart’s Quintet as follows: “In this Adagio, Mozart achieves the greatest seriousness of expression of which he is capable – only suddenly to exclaim: ‘Oh, it’s not all that bad’. And then he proceeds again, and you feel as if you’re plunging into cold water. These moments are perhaps decisive, because they bring us closer to his personality. It’s simply Mozart: peerless”.
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