Concertino in E flat major, Op. 26; Der Freischütz – Overture; Grand Duo Concertant for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 48; Clarinet Quintet in B flat major, Op. 34, J182 (arr. string orchestra)
Jörg Widmann (clarinet); Irish Chamber Orchestra/Denis Kozhukin
Alpha Classics ALPHA637b 69:18 mins
Jörg Widmann makes an impassioned plea in the CD booklet on behalf of Weber and the highly charged drama of his music. It’s that dramatic tension which he conveys so vividly in these very personal performances which remind us that besides being a fine clarinettist Widmann is a brilliantly inventive composer. There’s a strong element of spontaneity and risk-taking about his playing that makes it far removed from the cool elegance of Sabine Meyer’s famous Weber recording on Warner Classics. Like Meyer and one or two other players (Martin Fröst, for instance, who replicates Meyer’s repertoire exactly), Widmann opts to play the Clarinet Quintet with orchestral strings, and since the piece is in any case rather like a concerto there’s no harm done. Widmann’s tempos in the last two movements are almost recklessly fast, but there’s no denying the visceral excitement he produces. And in the ‘Fantasia’ slow movement, his ppp is breathtaking.
Like Mozart before him and Brahms after him, Weber wrote all his clarinet music for one specific player. In his case this was Heinrich Baermann, a former member of the Prussian Life Guards. The first piece Weber composed for him was the fine Concertino, with its hauntingly beautiful middle movement. Less familiar, but no less successful, is the Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano, which Baermann and Weber took with them on tour. It’s a piece which manages to combine virtuosity and sensuousness, and Widmann and his pianist Denis Kozhukin bring out both qualities admirably.