Affinità Elettive (Elective Affinities) features German clarinetist Nicolai Pfeffer performing an all-Mozart album with the Orchestra della Toscana conducted by Markus Stenz. Pfeffer’s luminous playing is featured in Mozart’s Concerto, K. 622, and in arrangements of solo concert pieces including the Rondo, K. 373 (originally for violin), and the concert aria “Sperai vicino il lido,” K. 368. The prominent Italian ensemble—the Orchestra of Tuscany, based in Florence—rounds out the album with a spritely performance of Mozart’s early Symphony No. 29, K. 201. The album was recorded in 2020 after restrictions for the pandemic were lifted. The project was able to take shape from the mutual joy felt by the musicians in being able to collaborate, perform, and record beautiful, heartfelt music again.
Rather than offering a solo album, Pfeffer and the Orchestra della Toscana pair the concerto with the symphony (both in the key of A major), bookending the attractive arrangements in an unusual, but pleasing presentation of Mozart works. This works especially well since there are so many first-rate recordings of the Mozart clarinet concerto available today. Plus, the blend and finesse of the Orchestra della Toscana throughout the album is exceptional and the recorded quality is also quite good. The attractive tri-fold has excellent program notes provided in German, English, and Italian. The cover photo features Pfeffer in front of the Ponte Vecchio (the famous medieval “old bridge”) in Florence near the Teatro Verdi where the album was recorded.
Nicolai Pfeffer is a sought-after performer and educator in Europe. His discography includes another recording of his arrangements with the Orchestra della Toscana and an album of the Brahms sonatas, Op. 120. His musicological research has resulted in editions of clarinet repertoire published by Henle Verlag and Trio Musik (https://triomusic.de). He teaches at a variety of German universities and has assisted in the design and improvement of clarinets made by F. Arthur Uebel.
Pfeffer’s overall performance is fresh and imaginative, with an effortless singing quality, colorful tone, excellent intonation, and focused control throughout. His performance of Mozart’s Concerto is especially captivating, with an overtly expressive individuality. The lovely, extended Eingänge written by Andreas Tarkmann, combined with the note changes, ornaments, and octave displacements based on current musicological research, all unite to make this a Mozart clarinet concerto recording truly worth owning. Pfeffer’s performance of the concerto is just beautiful.
Pfeffer’s arrangement of the Rondo, K. 373, is well done, works nicely for clarinet, and is played with charm and panache. The virtuosic concert aria, “Sperai vicino il lido,” K. 368, arranged by Andreas Tarkmann, is a showstopper for clarinet and features a variety of difficult passages which Pfeffer handles with aplomb. While most of Pfeffer’s arrangements of Mozart concert arias are written for Sabine Meyer (available at www.josefweinberger.de), the Rondo, K. 373, will be available soon from Trio Musik with both orchestra parts and piano reduction. Both arrangements would be welcome repertoire in recital or with orchestra. The Orchestra della Toscana brings the album to a rousing end with the cheerful Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201, considered to be an early highlight of Mozart’s symphonic output.
– Karen Dannessa