Krommer and Spohr: Clarinet Concertos (CD review)

Sabine Meyer and Julian Bliss, clarinets; Kenneth Sillito, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. EMI Classics 0946 3 79786 2 7.

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.

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 as well, not in the top echelon of recordings in terms of detail or transparency, perhaps, but 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.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa