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Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
Concertos for Clarinet and for Winds and Orchestra:

Concerto in B flat major for clarinet and orchestra (1819?)
Concertone No. 1 in F major for flute, clarinet, horn and orchestra *
Concertone No. 2 in F major for flute, two clarinets, horn and orchestra *
Concertone No. 3 in F major for flute, two clarinets, horn and orchestra *
(dates of composition unknown; probably student works)
Concerto in E flat major for clarinet and orchestra.(1814)
Luigi Magistrelli (clarinet); Laura Magistrelli (clarinet)
Elena Cecconi (flute) Alfredo Predetti (horn)
Lario Chamber Orchestra/Pieroangelo Gelmini
Recorded at S. Stefano Ticino, Milan in July 2002

Think Italian music, think opera … but throughout the 19th century there was an ever-increasing movement against the exclusivity of this form by a growing number of rebellious Italian composers. Although Mecadante was a prolific composer of operas (some 60 of them) he is best remembered as a notable composer of non-operatic music for the clarinet. These works are typically light-hearted, humorous and ironic with a measure of pathos and they all share prominent impressive virtuoso writing for the clarinet.

Mercadante’s Concerto in B flat major, full of Italian joie de vivre, lasting some seventeen-and-a-half minutes is cast in two continuous movements. The first Allegro Maestoso is very reminiscent of Haydn and Mozart, too reminiscent, perhaps, for all the familiar flowery decorations are here. But then, suddenly, my attention was aroused and held at the arrival of the Tema con Variazioni second movement. It has the most catchy tune which forms the basis of a set of five variations. In this sparkling movement the clarinet at more than one point sounds as if it has a fit of the giggles while the orchestra seeks to strike a more dignified pose. Luigi Magistrelli’s spirited virtuosity, joy and humour make this movement sheer delight. Mercadante’s more formal, more serious and introspective (especially in the central Largo) E flat major Clarinet Concerto is nevertheless not short on melodic inspiration. In this case merriment is mostly reserved for the cheerful Polacca final movement.

The three Concertones are quite short and probably date from Mercadante’s student days. These works are clearly experimental allowing the budding composer to flex his muscles and show off his great sense of fun, his adept use of wind instruments (with prominence given to the clarinets), novel harmonies and timbre and a very definite popular approach - for example, the flute’s part in Concertone No. 1 very definitely appeals to the balcony. The familiar ‘Voi che sapete’ from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is the theme for a set of variations that comprise the last movement of this attractive little work. Concertone No. 2 begins in a more classical, more serious frame of mind with a rather self-important romantic tune for the horn echoed derisively by the clarinets tittering at the outraged horn’s expense supported later by the equally insulted orchestra. But mostly it is music of delicious irony: humorous, joyful virtuosity for the two clarinets and the flute. You sense too that Mercadante is also lampooning operatic styles of his day in the final pages. The song of the cuckoo seems to intrude into the Mozartian elegance and refinement of the opening pages of the Concertone No. 3. It is not long before Mercadante’s sense of fun is sent skylarking again with more joyful virtuoso writing for the flute and clarinets leaving decorum to horn and orchestra.

Cheeky, sunny Italian clarinet and wind concertos, delightfully played with great brio and a keen sense of humour. A real tonic - guaranteed to make you smile.

Ian Lace

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