Mozart & Nielsen Clarinet Concertos


Julian Bliss performs the Clarinet Concertos of Mozart and Nielsen – often thought of as the two greatest such works in the repertoire: twin examples of what can be achieved by composers who have been truly inspired to write for the clarinet, using its uniquely expressive qualities to produce enduring and comprehensively masterly compositions.

Alongside these Julian Bliss presents two of his own clarinet arrangements of two Mozart arias, Der Liebe himmlisches Gefu?hl, K. 119  and Non che non sei capace, K. 419.

Featured on BBC Radio 3 Record Review


What people are saying

“The brilliant Julian Bliss continues to demonstrate his considerable talent … A youthful addition to the many excellent versions of the Mozart already available, and a fine introduction to the Nielsen for those who are not familiar with it.” Classic FM, September 2014

“Highly recommended.” Northern Echo, November 2014

 “Bliss integrates the bottom register smoothly, in a performance matching that of the Nielsen in flair, intimacy and spontaneity.” BBC Music Magazine, November 2014, Recording & Performance 

Julian Bliss clarinet
Royal Northern Sinfonia
Mario Venzago conductor

Release date:15th Sep 2014
Order code:SIGCD390
Barcode: 635212039021

 Let’s recapitulate once more concerning the so-called “basset clarinet.” Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart wrote his works for clarinet, possessed instruments in A and B? that had a lower range down to written C, like that of the basset horn in F. These instruments, which thus could play two steps beyond the lowest note of the standard clarinet, have somewhat confusingly become known as “basset clarinets.” Mozart wrote a number of parts for Stadler’s instrument, including those of the concerto, the quintet, and obbligato parts in a few arias. The basset clarinet didn’t catch on, however, and not only did players who followed Stadler not use it, but the first published edition of the concerto, dating from after 1800, uses various strategies to rewrite the low passages so that they can be played on the standard instrument—it is these editions that became widely circulated. Mozart’s autographs for the concerto and the quintet didn’t survive, so we don’t have his original notations for Stadler’s low notes. Any attempt to reconstruct the clarinet parts Mozart originally wrote for Stadler must thus work backwards from the 19th-century editions, with their tell-tale leaps in scalar and arpeggio patterns telling us that a passage has been rewritten to fit the standard instrument. Such a reconstruction is necessarily conjectural, since we do not have Mozart’s original parts to use for reference. Each modern clarinetist who has recorded the concerto on a low-C clarinet has fashioned his or her own reconstruction, and while they share many usages, they are each different from the others in certain details.

All of this is by way of preface for my observation that Julian Bliss does the best job yet deciding what passages should be lowered an octave and which others need to be rewritten in other ways. Only once—on the clarinet part’s antepenultimate note—do I disagree with his decision (he changes G to D; I would have maintained the G, which doubles the bass line).

Bliss, British-born and trained in London, America, and Germany (under Sabine Meyer), is at only 25 enormously accomplished. He has a supple, well-focused sound and an uncanny, crystalline technique. His playing in the Mozart Concerto is gorgeous, with an exquisite pianissimo at the reprise of theAdagio . His phrasing and articulations are unfailingly musical. Mario Venzago and the Royal Northern Sinfonia provide an alert accompaniment. Bliss’s arrangements of the two concert arias are imaginative and attractive; that of Der Liebe himmlisches Gefühl is for the low-C clarinet.

Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto has long been considered the ultimate technical challenge for the instrument. Bliss plays it with technique to burn, but his interpretation is more contemplative than, for example, the classic high-voltage reading of Stanley Drucker with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

This becomes my preferred version of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and has an inside track for my 2015 Want List. 

Fanfare, Richard A. Kaplan

Nielsen’s 1928 Clarinet Concerto was conceived as a portrait of its intended soloist Aage Oxenvad: in it, as Robert Simpson wrote, ‘choleric humour, pathos and kindliness are mingled in conflict’. The young British clarinettist Julian Bliss responds to the work’s mercurial switches of mood with a wide range of colour and articulation, and meets its considerable technical challenges with seemingly offhand virtuosity. He is well matched by the seasoned Mario Venzago and the players of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, with outstanding contributions from the wind section of bassoons and horns and the naggingly ever-present side drum. Bliss wins points over his obvious rival Martin Frost (on BIS), for the sense of teamwork gained through this use of a chamber orchestra, captured in a vivid if startlingly close-up recording. But in the heat of the moment he gets a beat out for a couple of bars at 07:15 in the first movement, which should have been corrected.

Bliss’s gift for characterisation is evident also in his adaptations of two Mozart concert arias, ‘Non che non sei capace’ and ‘Der Liebe himmlisches Gefuhl’, which he plays with imaginative ornamentation. But the other main work is Mozart’s evergreen Concerto, a late work like the Nielsen. Although the booklet doesn’t anywhere mention the fact, this is played on a basset clarinet, with the extra low notes presumed to be in Mozart’s lost manuscript. Bliss integrates the bottom register smoothly, in a performance matching that of the Nielsen in flair, intimacy and spontaneity.

Recording & Performance 

Judge the tenor of Nielsen’s Concerto with the first cadenza (4’37”) in the opening movement played by Ib Erikson (1954) – edgy, oratorical, pianissimo to fortissimo extreme, his realisation of passionato uninhibitedly harsh; and turning this unbarred episode into an improvisation of earthy vehemence. Picture the composer’s rural roots and the choleric obstinacy of the concerto’s dedicatee Aage Oxenvad. Modern clarinettists such as Stanley Drucker and Martin Frost don’t hit the nails. Nor does Julian Bliss, partly because Mario Venzago’s tempo is too quick for Allegretto un poco, five points higher than the marking crotchet=72. Leonard Bernstein (Drucker) and Osmo Vanska (Frost) also misjudge the speed. Weighty rhythm isn’t stressed, as it is by Mogens Woldike (Erikson). And Bliss, though technically consummate, is emotionally narrow. Both musicians, however, range wider in the remaining movements, culminating in a finale of greater power. Nielsen wrote for the A clarinet; so did Mozart, but for Anton Stadler’s extended instrument, today a basset clarinet as used by Bliss. He follows Franz Giegling’s conjectural restoration of the solo part with added personal touches but with no personal insights until the reprise of the second movement. A withdrawn tonal haze here bodes well for a reflective finale, where Venzago helps through a better awareness of orchestral detail and texture which continues into the two arias. Bliss, who adapted both soprano parts for standard clarinet, also orchestrated the existing piano reduction of Kl19. Consider these as encores where both musicians are at their finest.

Nalen Anthoni, Gramophone

Julian Bliss is joined by Royal Northern Sinfonia conducted by Mario Venzago, in the Clarinet Concertos of Mozart and Nielsen. These twin examples of what can be achieved by composers who have been inspired to write for the clarinet are delivered expressively and with flair. Bliss includes two of his own clarinet arrangements of Mozart arias. Highly recommended.

Northern Echo

Late works written with the skills and characters of their soloists in mind, both Mozart and Nielsen’s clarinet concertos are mainstays of the repertoire, and while there is no shortage of Mozart recordings, the Nielsen gets fewer outings.

The Danish composer’s four-movement concerto, by turns angular, contemplative and effervescent, calls to mind the Fifth Symphony, first performed six years earlier in 1922, with its unsettling snare drum interventions, Graham Johns the maverick here.

Mario Venzago conducts the Royal Northern Sinfonia with a jazzy swing in the Mozart finale, and a feel for  Nielsen’s musical and natural landscape. Bliss’s boastful programme note aside, he does the works proud.

4 Stars

The Independent on Sunday, Claudia Pritchard

The brilliant Julian Bliss continues to demonstrate his considerable talent by tackling the two greatest works in the repertoire for his instrument – Mozart’s evergreen Clarinet Concerto and the concerto by Carl Nielsen. He also presents his own clarinet arrangements of two Mozart arias, ‘Der Liebe himmlisches Gefühl’ and ‘Non che non sei capace’.

All the works collected here showcase the attractive qualities of Bliss’s playing, rich and fruity in the showier passages, effortless in the demanding runs made by Nielsen in particular and, at the sublime moments, appropriately mellifluous and sonorous.

A youthful addition to the many excellent versions of the Mozart already available, and a fine introduction to the Nielsen for those who are not familiar with it.

Classic FM

  1. Clarinet Concerto: I. Allegretto un poco – Carl Nielsen – 8.02
  2. Clarinet Concerto: II. Poco adagio – Carl Nielsen – 5.03
  3. Clarinet Concerto: III. Allegro un poco – Carl Nielsen – 6.59
  4. Clarinet Concerto: IV. Allegro vivace – Carl Nielsen – 4.30
  5. Non che non sei capace, K. 419 – Mozart, arr. Bliss – 4.44
  6. Der Liebe himmlisches Gef?hl, K. 119 – Mozart, arr. Bliss – 5.49
  7. Clarinet Concerto in A (HOF: 8): I. Allegro – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – 12.22
  8. Clarinet Concerto in A (HOF: 8): II. Adagio – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – 7.00
  9. Clarinet Concerto in A (HOF: 8): III. Rondo: Allegro – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – 9.01
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