> Sabine Meyer (clarinet) - Weber, Mendelssohn, Baermann [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sabine MEYER (clarinet)
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Clarinet Quintet in B flat Op.34 (for clarinet and strings)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Two Konzertstücke for clarinet, basset-horn and orchestra; Op.113 in F minor and Op.114 in D minor
Heinrich BAERMANN (1784-1847) Clarinet Quintet No.3 in E flat Op.23 for clarinet and strings
Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet and basset-horn)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Kenneth Sillito
Recorded at Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, Hampstead, London in May 2001
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 57359 2 8 [57. 19]


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Clive Brown’s informative and highly readable programme notes give plenty of background to these three highly enjoyable works, though whether the two quintets were sanctioned to be accompanied by string orchestra rather than single strings in a chamber context is not mentioned. He also makes the highly relevant point that so much of this chamber music was written for a string quartet accompaniment rather than for piano because it was hard to find decent instruments when the players undertook tours - an essential part of their careers. The Weber and Mendelssohn pieces were written for the virtuoso clarinettist Baermann, the composer of the final work on the CD, who by all accounts was a brilliant player, much as Richard Mühlfeld (a player favoured by Brahms) who followed him. Sabine Meyer, briefly and controversially Karajan’s principal clarinettist in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (remember the outrage from its male players?), upholds the tradition today with her smooth, athletic technique and intensity of phrasing. Weber called Baermann’s playing ‘godlike’, Mendelssohn described him as ‘one of the best musicians I know’. Weber wrote all his works for him (two concertos and a concertino) including this magical quintet in 1815, and judging by its demands, Baermann must indeed have been a fine virtuoso. Meyer’s playing of florid quiet passages is breathtaking, and nor is this music pure froth either, the exciting finale with its energetic accompaniment makes a rousing finish.

What might have been a CD featuring three very similar composers from the same period (1780s-1847) is alleviated by the partnership with Wolfgang Meyer (her brother?) as basset-horn soloist in the duo works written by Mendelssohn for Baermann and his son Carl, who must have been almost as gifted as his father. They were written in exchange for a meal of steamed dumplings and cheese strudel which Mendelssohn had enjoyed with the Baermanns in Munich - a culinary/musical bargain. Each lasts barely over six minutes, but the music sparkles effervescently and inventively with skilful counterpoint and lyrical tunes as their strongest features, with no hint of heaviness induced by dumplings.

Finally Baermann reveals himself as a fairly accomplished composer in a fascinating quintet, with reminiscences of Mozart (the opening of the famous G minor Symphony No.40) and an Adagio notable for a colourful string tremolando at one point, made more effective here by being for a body of players rather than a string quartet. Like the Weber quintet its finale has plenty of rhythmic vitality for Meyer to get her tongue around.

A highly satisfying disc from all points of view with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on top form under violinist Kenneth Sillito’s secure direction, but it’s Meyer (S) who is deservedly the star.

Christopher Fifield

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