The Scottish Chamber Orchestra are going from strength to strength in their recordings for Linn; some have come very close for me to being definitive, and this is as successful as any to date. I liked the SCO with Robin Ticciati in Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique—others were even more enthusiastic, with Dan Morgan and Simon Thompson both making it Recording of the Month.
Their Mozart symphony recordings with Sir Charles Mackerras were an all-round success: Nos 38-41, CKD308: Recording of the Month and February 2009 Download Roundup; Nos 29, 31-2, 35-6, CKD350 and April 2010 Download Roundup—Recording of the Month. With Alexander Janiczek at the helm I greatly enjoyed their performance of Mozart's Colloredo Serenade and Divertimento K521 on my first encounter with them (CKD320—January 2009 Download Roundup), so it's hardly surprising that the new recording is such a delight.
Another reason for my lack of surprise at placing this new Linn recording at the top of the tree is that I'm by no means the first to sing its praises—it's already received top rating or something very close from at least three reviewers in music magazines and one radio CD review.
Maximiliano Martín's performances of the first clarinet concerto and the concertino are so good and he's so well supported by the SCO and Alexander Janiczek as to stand their ground against all comers. They capture both the sheer fun of the music—there's plenty of that—and the more reflective moods; I hope that Martín will also give us the second clarinet concerto and the quintet or its orchestrated version soon.
Much as I'd have liked to have had those other two clarinet works, I certainly can't complain about the performances of the bassoon and horn works which separate the clarinet concerto and concertino here. Not even Richard Strauss comes closer than Weber to rivalling the Mozart horn concertos and Alec Frank-Gemmill makes a very strong case for Weber, showing us what Flanders and Swann might have made into another success, while Peter Whelan makes an equally strong case for the bassoon concerto as a rival to Mozart's. (A good question for a quiz night: name any composer other than Vivaldi, Mozart and Weber who wrote a solo bassoon concerto.) I can't think of the word ‘bassoon' without thinking ‘buffoon' and there's plenty of buffoonery here, especially in the perky finale, but Whelan also brings out the reflective, rather plangent mood of the slow movement, too.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Alexander Janiczek offer ideal accompaniment throughout and the recording is equally recommendable.
Both those Chandos recordings come in CD form and as a download in mp3, 16-bit and 24/96, giving the Linn recording the edge in that the physical disc is available as an SACD and as up to 24/192 Studio Master download format. As I don't yet have a DAC that can cope with 24/192, I listened to the recording in better-than-CD 24/96 format. That should give a fair indication of what to expect from the SACD stereo layer of the equivalent disc—I've been able to compare some recent Linn releases, though not this one, in both formats—and it's very good indeed.
David Kettle's notes in the booklet, which comes as a pdf document for downloaders, are very valuable. They round off an excellent release, strongly recommended to all but those seeking all the clarinet concertante works on one disc; they will need to turn to Meyer or Fröst, with Meyer clearly replacing as bargain of choice the worthy performances of the two clarinet concertos and concertino on Naxos.