Mozart Clarinet Quintet K.581

Oliver Pashley challenges childhood phobias for GUY JAMES

clarinet classical music cums heloise werner maya amin-smith oliver pashley Sebastian Salek Selwyn selwyn chapel will cole

Selwyn College Chapel, Tuesday 21st Feb, Free (donations to CUMS)


I dislike the Clarinet. I Blame my upbringing: years of torment in the reed sections of school orchestras rendered me unresponsive to any clarinetist’s charms. So, when I am captivated by one, I really sit up and take note.

In this performance of Mozart’s ever-popular Quintet K.531, Oliver Pashley (bass clarinet) demonstrated complete control from the offset. He blended wonderfully in the rich texture, leading very naturally within phrases and taking pains to never waste a single note’s potential for emotive effect.

Selwyn chapel provided an intimate setting for the sweet opening harmonies; the supporting strings were vibrant, and the players were obviously enjoying their parts.  Solo lines were highlighted to good effect; Maya Amin-Smith (Violin 1) making Mozart’s lively dancing lines appear to fly from her strings. Héloïse Werner maintained a steadfast bass line on the cello, and more generally I felt that the supporting strings were careful to provide a background for Oliver.

However, the ensemble lost their sense of conviction when fewer than 4 of the instruments played at any one time, and there were definitely missed opportunities for dynamic contrast. Some of the rich string writing was lost as melody lines floated up into the chapel’s ceiling, lessening impact, and the more demanding passages needed to be given more space to come across cleanly.

Despite these trifles the strings accomplished each movement with musical poise, Sebastian Salek (Violin 2) and Edmund Daley (Viola) often interweaving good effect.  They managed to retain much of the drama to be drawn from the melodic lines that was periodically lost to the billowing acoustic and soft dynamic.

Oliver’s performance was truly transcendent. He produced some thrilling decrescendos up to floating high notes that rang with a clarity that appeared to defy his instrument’s bass inclination.  His ability to direct the efforts of the whole ensemble by projecting his musicality, and his total precision were worth every spark of 5 stars. However, some of the minor issues in the string ensemble and intonation tip the scales slightly lower.

Overall, I was thrilled  I was happy to have my negative opinion upon the Clarinet so thoroughly rebuked – I look forward to following Oliver in his undoubtedly bright future.