Friday, March 11, 2011

Krommer and Spohr - Clarinet Concertos – Sabine Meyer, Julian Bliss, ASMF


Things begin in the lightest possible mood with Franz Krommer's Concerto for Two Clarinets (1815). Krommer (1759-1831) was the Czech (or, more precisely, Moravian) composer who did the bulk of his writing in Hungary and Austria, which at the time were among the music capitals of the world. Most of his hundred-odd works were symphonies, concertos, partitas (instrumental suites of variations), chamber music, and marches.

Self-portrait of Spohr as a young man. The opening movement of the Concerto is as frothy and cheerful as it could be, the two young clarinetists, Sabine Meyer and Julian Bliss, seeming to have a good time in the give-and-take communication of their instruments. The second movement Adagio, however, seems to belong to a different work altogether, Don Giovanni perhaps, heavy and ponderous. Still, things lighten up again in the Finale, and in every case Kenneth Sillito and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields provide elegant support, if lacking a little of the gusto they used to produce under Marriner.

Then we move on to the most serious piece on the disc, Louis Spohr's Clarinet Concerto No. 4, with Ms. Meyer as soloist. Spohr (1784-1859) was the German violinist, conductor, and composer who briefly lit up the European musical skies as a figure almost as well known as Beethoven. Although today we remember him mainly for his oratorios and the work he did to develop the music drama, in his day critics considered his orchestral pieces as fine as Mozart's. How things change with the years.

Slightly gloomy, sonorous, yet elevated, not only is the mood of the Clarinet Concerto No. 4 serious, but the orchestration is the most weighty of the three pieces in the collection, too, especially compared to the Krommer concerto. The program concludes with the music that strikes me as having the best balance between earnestness and lightheartedness, Spohr's Clarinet Concerto No. 2, lively and melodic.

EMI's sound is lovely, radiating a sweet, natural, ambient bloom. The orchestra appears well spread out across the sound stage, the soloists are nicely centered when necessary, and the imaging conveys a realistic sense of depth and presence. It's all a most-pleasant experience.--JJP

flac, scans

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