Spohr: Clarinet Concertos Nos 3 & 4

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Clarinet Concertos Nos 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Michael Collins (clarinet); Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Robin O’Neill


Composers have been lucky with clarinettists. Mozart had Anton Stadler, Weber had Heinrich Baermann, Brahms had Richard Mühlfeld… and Louis Spohr had Johann Simon Hermstedt, for whom he wrote four concertos with often startlingly demanding solo parts. But their virtuosity isn’t everything: both the Third and Fourth concertos have minor-key opening movements with some darkly dramatic colouring, and episodes of hushed solemnity in their slow movements, before lightening the mood with, respectively, a ‘tirolese’ and a bolero. Michael Collins (whom many contemporary composers have been lucky to have as interpreter) repeats the success of his disc of Nos 1 and 2 with elegantly phrased melodies, immaculate passagework and wondrously even trills. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Robin O’Neill again provide alert support, and the recording is outstanding, with a pleasant sense of intimacy embracing wind, strings and soloist. There are serviceable performances of both concertos by Ernst Ottensamer on a couple of Naxos discs, though in a somewhat boomy acoustic. In No. 4, there’s stronger competition from Sabine Meyer, on an EMI disc which she shares with Julian Bliss. She’s as brilliant and persuasive as Collins, and Kenneth Sillito leads the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in some delightfully cosseted string phrasing; but the recording sounds inflated and a touch unnatural. So the nod just goes to Collins for his completion of a distinguished set. Anthony Burton