ALBUM TITLE: Weber
WORKS: Clarinet Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Clarinet Concertino in E flat, Op. 26; Clarinet Quintet in B flat, Op. 34
PERFORMER: Martin Fröst (clarinet); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1523 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Like Mozart before him, and Brahms after him, Weber composed all his important clarinet works for a single outstanding player. In his case, this was Heinrich Bärmann, whom he met on a visit to Munich in the spring of 1811. In that year alone, Weber wrote three orchestral works for Bärmann, as well as the third movement of what would eventually become his Clarinet Quintet. The pieces are uneven in quality, but all of them are shot through with Weber’s operatic genius – nowhere more so than in their impassioned, dark-hued slow movements.
The Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst plays with admirable virtuosity and smoothness of tone, and it’s hard to imagine the music better performed. The same repertoire has, however, been very impressively recorded in the past by the Finnish virtuoso Kari Kriikku, and by Sabine Meyer. Like Fröst, Meyer opts to play the Quintet with orchestral strings, and since the clarinet plays such a leading role there’s no great harm done. All the same, the greater transparency and lightness of the original version, as heard from Kriikuu and the fine New Helsinki Quartet, comes into its own in the ‘bouncing’ rhythm of the finale.
In the concertos it’s possible to feel that Fröst, for all the beauty of his playing, is occasionally a touch too refined. Certainly, Meyer brings more perkiness to the polonaise finale of the Concerto No. 2, and her finely recorded performances come with the advantage of the splendid Staatskapelle Dresden – the town where Weber himself spent so much of his life. Misha Donat