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MUSIC : Instrument for a Special Concerto

January 17, 1991|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

Written within weeks of his death, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto has always had a special aura surrounding it.

Some have found in its autumnal wistfulness and austere beauty the composer's premonition of his tragic fate. He died when he was 35.

Others argue that Mozart had absolutely no notion that he was going to die so soon and that the wisdom and maturity heard in the work simply indicate his achieving yet another level of musical artistry that dumbfounds the intellect and moves the soul.

What we know for sure is that Mozart wrote the Concerto, K. 622, for his friend and fellow member of the Masonic lodge in Vienna, Anton Stadler.

A virtuoso and undoubtedly a poet of the instrument, Stadler had already inspired Mozart to write his Trio in E-flat for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, K. 498, and the Quintet in A for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581. All three works belong to the composer's last years and are considered among his most beautiful.

Indeed, Stadler and Mozart may be said to have virtually invented the art of writing for the clarinet and can be considered responsible for raising it to the level of a solo instrument.

Beyond that, Stadler was also something of an experimenter. Not content with the instrument as it was, Stadler prevailed upon various instrument-makers to extend the lower range of the clarinet by four notes. Although this extended-range clarinet never caught on, it was for this instrument that Mozart wrote the concerto.

David Shifrin, who plays the work Sunday with the South Coast Symphony, had a special clarinet built in 1983 to access this range. He will use this extended-range clarinet, handcrafted for him by Leonard Gullotta, head of research for the Selmer Clarinet Co. in Indiana, at Sunday's concert.

Most of us know the concerto in an edited version suitable for today's instrument. This edition, issued by Mozart's publisher 10 years after the composer's death, compensates for the lack of the four bottom notes by jumping up an octave or reversing the direction of an arpeggio.

"For many many bars at a time, people will hear the same version they're used to," Shifrin told The Times in a previous interview about the work. "Then there will be a very dramatic passage or cascading notes descending down to the low register that can now be filled out instead of being broken in the middle of the passage."

Shifrin recorded the concerto--along with the Clarinet Quintet, K. 581--with this instrument in 1987. Although there are other recordings using an extended-range clarinet, Shifrin said that he performs this version of the piece 30 or 40 times a year.

Who: David Shifrin, soloist in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto on a program by the South Coast Symphony led by Larry Granger. Works by Rossini and Nielsen complete the program.

When: Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3:15 p.m.

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine.

Whereabouts: UC Irvine campus across from the Marketplace mall.

Wherewithal: $12 to $25.

Where to Call: (714) 854-4646.

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