Eric Hoeprich press reviews
Eric Hoeprich returns to Glossa on splendid form with two pillars of the chamber music repertory in the Clarinet Quintets of Mozart and Brahms. For this release – recorded in the tranquil English surroundings of St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay in Hampshire, Hoeprich is joined by the recently-established and much-lauded London Haydn Quartet.
The Baltimore-born Hoeprich has been a regular performer on Glossa over the years, whether as a soloist, or directing his Harmoniemusik ensemble Nachtmusique or as the principal clarinettist with Frans Brüggen’s Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. He is an established and eloquent writer – this latest recording contains another fascinating and entertaining essay signed by Hoeprich, this time on the genesis and early reception of both the Mozart and Brahms pieces. His wide-ranging study of the instrument – succinctly titled The Clarinet – will be published shortly by Yale University Press.
The recording brings out the best in modern playing and rigorous study of original performing practices – all five versatile players are adept in a wide range of performing styles. Hoeprich has for many years been an instrument maker himself and here employs carefully-researched copies of clarinets used by the original performers. Meanwhile, the London Haydn Quartet (Catherine Manson and Margaret Fautless, violins; James Boyd, viola and Jonathan Cohen, cello) are engaged in a survey in concert of all the string quartets by Haydn, using gut strings and classical bows.
With Hoeprich the Quartet has been performing the Mozart and Brahms Quintets live – a forthcoming Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA concert is part of a series of public engagements which has already included a tour of The Netherlands. Eric Hoeprich has also had a noted recent success in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto being accompanied by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (and as with the Quintet here his preferred instrument was the basset clarinet).
We tracked down the clarinettist to give us a few pointers to his current thoughts on performing Mozart and Brahms.
What drew you to recording this pairing of two great chamber works, pinnacles of their genre? How important was the choice of instruments for all five players?
You are right that these two works represent the pinnacle of chamber repertoire for the clarinet. Of course, a factor they also have in common is that Mozart and Brahms were inspired to compose their quintets for the same reason: their acquaintance with an exceptional clarinettist playing on an unusual instrument that led them to compose extraordinary music. For both works I’ve tried to manage to play on the instruments that the composers would have expected to hear.
In the case of the Mozart quintet, the piece was written for, and probably commissioned by, Anton Stadler, who had worked together with a Viennese instrument maker to develop a clarinet with extra low notes. The so-called ‘basset clarinet’ was introduced by Stadler to the Viennese public in 1788, and Mozart wrote the quintet the next year. Stadler is also convincingly associated with many works by Mozart during his years in Vienna, not the least of which is the clarinet concerto, KV622, also written for the special basset clarinet. I built a basset clarinet out of boxwood, based on an engraving from a concert program in Riga, where Stadler performed in the 1790s which I think works very well for both pieces. I always say that the instrument is great – if there are any problems then they're the fault of the performer!
As for the Brahms, we actually have many similarities. He was entranced by Richard Mühlfeld’s clarinet playing, who also played on unusual clarinets, made by Georg Ottensteiner of Munich. Just as Mozart, Brahms wouldn't have written the chamber music for clarinet unless he'd met Mühlfeld, whom he dubbed ‘Fräulein Klarinette’, and with whom he toured widely. The Ottensteiner clarinets were made from boxwood at a time when ebony wood was prevalent. The key system is also slightly more simple than the usual German-system instruments, with something in common with earlier instruments, which were also made from boxwood. These instruments are too difficult to make for someone like me, so I had them built by Jochen Seggelke of Bamberg, based on Mühlfeld’s own clarinets, which are still in Meiningen.
In addition to these points, there are also the issues of source material and performance practice. For this, it was wonderful to work with the London Haydn Quartet, who are very interested in these aspects of performance, and take the time and trouble to approach the music from the historical perspective. In addition to being a top-level quartet, they are also the perfect colleagues, incessantly searching for meaning in the text and in the available source material, without being pedantic or overbearing. In concerts, I enjoy hearing their Haydn quartets as much as playing a quintet with them!
Chamber music is one reflection of your musical activities. What else have you been involved in recently?
My other performing activities include the things that have been part of my life for decades, such as the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, and my wind ensembles, Nachtmusique and Stadler Trio. With all of these groups we’ve made recordings with Glossa, which is always a pleasure. And in addition to these activities, there are many invitations to play solo with other orchestras. I just finished a wonderful tour with the American orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque, in San Francisco, and later this year will perform with the Kölner Akademie, Akademie für Alte Musik (Berlin), Handel and Haydn Society (Boston) and several others in this Mozart birthday year.
Is your sideline as an instrument ‘artisan’ still active these days?
Sadly, my work as an instrument maker is almost non-existent these days. I have the tools and the skills, but no time. Luckily many of my students [Hoeprich teaches at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and at the Paris Conservatoire] are also making instruments these days, and doing it very well, so it’s not as though this is a general problem.
What else is occupying your time or your thoughts at the present time?
Recording goes on. I’ve just finished recording the three Crusell Clarinet Concertos with the Kölner Akademie (this will be released by ARS Produktions), and next month will record with the basset horn trio, Stadler Trio – more Mozart! As for writing, I’m happy to report that this year a book on the clarinet that I’ve been working on for some time will be published by Yale – it is part of a series on instruments, four of which are already out. Very nice-looking books indeed. As for other subjects that I am concerned about, I suppose there are the usual things – world peace, the environment, my students. I do think that by giving as much as we can, we create an environment for positive change in the world, which is something needed at the moment, perhaps more than ever.