WORKS: Three Latin American Sketches; Quiet City; Clarinet Concerto; Appalachian Spring Suite
PERFORMER: Laura Ardan (clarinet); Nashville CO/Paul Gambill
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10005
German-born but London-based, ‘Glorious John’ Cramer (1771-1858) was one of the most celebrated composer-virtuosi of his day. On this evidence his music, if not wildly individual, is certainly worth an airing. Cramer saw himself as a conservative working within the Mozartian tradition. And there are unmissable echoes of Mozart in his mellifluous, gracefully balanced themes and, in the Second Piano Concerto (c1796), his crystalline keyboard textures. The attractive slow movements are especially Mozartian, above all the Romanze-style Larghetto of No. 7. But the richer, more elaborate keyboard figuration in the two later concertos often suggests Hummel or even the Chopin concertos. Cramer’s forms tend to be mechanical, with lyrical melodies threaded together on a string of glittering passagework. No. 8, though, has a more original, quasi-cyclic structure, breaking off the first movement in mid-flight and only resolving it at the end of the finale, a catchy piece in the fashionable ‘Spanish’ style.
With the orchestra usually reduced to a discreet backdrop, everything depends on the pianist to lift this music off the page. And it would be hard to imagine a more colourful, sympathetic advocate than Howard Shelley. He despatches Cramer’s keyboard pyrotechnics with an ideal blend of elegance and devil-may-care brilliance, and shapes the lyrical themes with a cantabile expressiveness that was a hallmark of the composer’s own playing. Richard Wigmore