WEBER: Concerto for Clarinet and Orch. No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 73; Overture to the Opera “Oberon”; Overture “Beherrscher der Geister,” Op. 27; Concertino for Clarinet and Orch. in C Minor, Op. 26 – Martin Spangenberg, clarinet and cond. / Orchester M18 – Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm, multichannel SACD (2+2+2) MDG 901 1754-6, 65:52 [Distr. by E1] ****:
WEBER Wind Concertos = Concerto for Clarinet and Orch. No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 73; Bassoon Concerto in F Minor, Op. 75; Horn Concertino in E Minor, Op. 45; Concertino for Clarinet and Orch. in C Minor, Op. 26 – Maximiliano Martín, clarinet/ Peter Whelen, bassoon/ Alec Frank-Gemmill, horn/ Scottish Ch. Orch. / Alexander Janiczek – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 409, 64:31 [Distr. by Naxos] ***(*):
How do you package the thrice-familiar, million-times-recorded Weber clarinet concerti? The usual program (I have several such in my collection) yokes the concerti to Weber’s equally commanding Clarinet Concertino. Nothing new here then—except that both these new recordings offer a changeup. Martin Spanenberg places the concerti in the context of two of Weber’s overtures, one fanciful and tenderly melodic, one tumultuously dramatic. This draws attention to the operatic qualities of Weber’s concerted music. Alexander Janiczek and friends take a different tack, presenting us with an assortment of Weber’s wind concertos, which necessitates axing the Clarinet Concerto No. 2. Retaining the Clarinet Concertino instead makes for an interesting counterpoint to the witty, more whimsical Horn Concertino. (Now, if Janiczek and Company had included Weber’s Andante and Hungarian Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra, this would have been an unbeatable survey of Weber for winds.)
The two clarinet concerti provide a study in contrasts, but I’m surprised to see that critics aren’t unanimous in assessing what the nature of that contrast might be. At least one writer I’ve read has opined that the Second Concerto is the more serious work. True, the second movement has a quiet gravitas that qualifies as very serious, but this by way of contrast to the first movement, which is extrovert, big-boned and heroic in posture. The First Concerto, on the other hand, begins with a movement of stark and stormy drama despite more lyrical passages. A modified sonata-allegro, the movement lacks a development section but instead moves right to the recapitulation, in which the two themes are introduced in reverse order. It might well be a scene from one of Weber’s more dramatic operas. And the composer remains in operatic mode for the second movement, which seems almost an excursion to some alternative Wolf’s Glen, despite a bucolic middle-section melody intoned by the pair of horns and solo clarinet. Both concertos are capped by a rollicking finale that showcases the clarinet’s comedic abilities.
While the Clarinet Concertino is in the standard three movements, it is anything but usual: the first movement is a brief introductory Adagio, and this is followed by series of variations that move from darkness to light—from quiescence to animation, from minor to major mode (the work ends in E-flat major) and so seem to make their own dramatic statement.
If Weber’s early (1804) concerto-overture Beherrscher der Geister (Ruler of the Spirits) matches the fire and drama of the opening of his First Clarinet Concerto, the overture to Oberon is all fairy grace and lightness and has no analog among the concerti. Instead, in this context it suggests the breadth of Weber’s imagination. No wonder Stravinsky called him a prince among composers.
Martin Spanenberg and the young (founded 2003) chamber orchestra M18 are convincing in all these works. I find the balance of drama and lyricism that they bring to the concerti is just right—reasoned and judicious. But they really cut loose in the heaven-storming Beherrscher der Geister. If you’ve been cajoled into a humorous cast of mind by the finale of Concerto No. 1, this will shake you out of it! MDG’s surround-sound recording is atmospheric and detailed.
Really, I’m almost as happy with the offering on Linn. Again, the program has built-in contrast: Along with the serious and commanding Concerto No. 1 and Clarinet Concertino is the Bassoon Concerto of the same year—1811—when, following the great success of the first two works, Weber was inundated with commissions, most of which he was unable to fulfill. Unlike the clarinet works, this concerto is mostly light-hearted, treating the bassoon as basso buffo. It’s probably as beloved by bassoonists as the other works are by clarinetists, though most listeners will place it a rung or two below the clarinet pieces.
Finally, the Horn Concertino: written in 1806, when Weber was a mere nineteen, it was revised (probably radically, but then the original manuscript has been lost) in 1815. In form, it recalls the Clarinet Concertino. It begins with a dark-hued, even mournful Adagio followed by a much more buoyant theme-and-variations movement. Following a brief recitative in which the solo horn plays some wild double-stops (you have to hear it to believe it), the finale is a bouncing Polacca that brings the work to a less heroic conclusion than Weber’s other concertino. It seems to cover almost too much emotional terrain for one short work, but it’s both an enjoyable and challenging work in its chromaticism and ahead-of-its-time special effects.
I find that the performances by hornist Frank-Gemmill and bassoonist Whelen are all they should be: dashing, comic when called for, virtuosic, especially the playing of Frank-Gemmill. They are supported in fine style by Janiczek and the excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra. I’m not quite as happy with the clarinet works. Here, both Maximiliano Martín and conductor Janiczek seem to take things too seriously. There is a bit too much angst and rigor, not enough of the sunny and smiling where these qualities are called for. The musicality and virtuosity of Martín’s performances are never in question; I just wish he’d been able to relax a bit more.
Linn’s sound is very fine as well, if anything more grandly expansive, with imaging that reflects a bigger, deeper hall. Yet while both recordings have a good deal to offer, interpretively, Martin Spangenberg has the edge.
This is a special upscale audiophile vinyl that is worth it!