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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Clarinet Concerto no. 1 in f, J114/op.73 (1811), Clarinet Concertino in E flat, J109/op.26 (1811), Clarinet Concerto no. 2 in E flat, J118/op.74 (1811), Clarinet Quintet in B flat, J182/op.34 (1815) (string orchestra version)*
Sabine Meyer (clarinet)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Herbert Blomstedt, *Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn/Jörg Faerber
Recorded 19th –13th September 1985, Lukaskirche, Dresden, *11th-14th November 1984, Kirche auf der Karlshöhe, Ludwigsberg


Weber is the living refutation of the idea that German composers have to be serious-minded and logical. It is true that he is always ready with an expressive turn of phrase, amounting to real depth and poetry in slow movements, particularly that of the Quintet, possibly the finest work here. But he is also ready to break into cheeky humour – again the Quintet provides the supreme example with its "Capriccio presto" Minuet – and into virtuoso flights that exist purely for entertainment. So much for Germanic seriousness, but he is no less of a free spirit in his way of constructing a piece, always ready to dart off at a tangent or to halt the proceedings because now it’s time for some grand pathos or a dramatic gesture.

These particular works were inspired by the playing of Heinrich Bärmann, whose triumphant first performance of the Concertino in April 1811 led to the commission by the King of Bavaria to write two concertos for Bärmann, both of which were ready by July of the same year. The Quintet took a little longer and is not to be considered a chamber work in the sense of a piece for five equal partners, but a concerto for clarinet with string quartet accompaniment. It loses nothing in the present transcription and maybe gains something, especially when Faerber is a snappier conductor than Blomstedt.

Sabine Meyer achieved notoriety following Herbert von Karajan’s insistence on taking her into the Berlin Philharmonic against the orchestra’s wishes (they felt she was a fine soloist but not a good orchestral player). Her prowess as an orchestral player is not on trial here; the important thing is that she proves an ideal soloist, entering into Weber’s quicksilver changes of mood, now poetic and musing, now sparkling and hugely virtuosic, now powerfully dramatic. She has a wide range of tone and expression, and total control over her instrument.

Due perhaps to the resonant Dresden acoustic, Blomstedt does not always convince me that Weber’s imaginative use of the solo wind instruments was equally matched by his command of the full orchestra, which sometimes sounds muddy-textured and unclear. But still, the reflectors are on Meyer and she never lets go of you.

Christopher Howell

Great Recordings of the Century

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