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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Clarinet Quintet in B flat J182 (1815) [28:41]
Trio for flute, cello and piano in G minor J259 (1819) [20:25]
Piano Quartet in B flat J76 (1809) [23:54]
The Gaudier Ensemble: Richard Hosford (clarinet), Jaime Martin (flute), Marieke Blankestijn (violin I), Lesley Hatfield (violin II), Iris Juda (viola), Christoph Marks (cello), Susan Tomes (piano).
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, February 2004 DDD
HYPERION CDA 67464 [73:10]

Weber was one of the first "romantic" composers and amongst the most important of Beethoven’s time. Today his name is largely associated with opera, notably Der Freischütz and Oberon, and orchestral music – there are two symphonies and two concertos each for piano and clarinet. Jähn’s catalogue of his works numbers 308 in total but only three of these are classified as "chamber". Here they all are, beautifully played by members of the Gaudier Ensemble and well recorded on one highly desirable disc.

The Clarinet Quintet is the best-known of these three works. As with the two clarinet concertos, Weber wrote it for Heinrich Baermann. It is in the same mould with the clarinet having many opportunities for display and very much a soloist. The work occupied Weber for quite some time. He started it in 1811, the first three movements were performed privately in 1813 before the concluding rondo was added in 1815. The first movement allegro opens sedately before gathering momentum. Lyrical and free-flowing, it is on a large scale and uses sonata form. The adagio which follows is entitled Fantasia and is particularly memorable. When Weber asks the clarinetist to repeat long upward lines pianissimo, Richard Hosford’s stunning control achieves what sound like perfect echoes. The minuet that follows is capricious indeed and the mostly light-hearted rondo finale is very elegantly realised here. This is a treasurable performance that makes one think of the work as fit to sit alongside Mozart’s and Brahms’s contributions to the genre.

In the flute trio, a cello provides contrast and the combination of instruments is the same as Haydn used in about 1790. The work seems to have been written for domiciliary purposes and the flautist who inspired it was Weber’s doctor Philipp Jungh. Although retaining some influence from Haydn, Weber sets it in four movements with an opener comparable to the clarinet quintet and scherzo placed second. The latter is fleeting at under three minutes and lacks a trio but there is a notable contrasting graceful theme for the flute. This seems like a precursor of the Invitation to the Waltz – a work which was to follow shortly. The andante which follows is entitled "Shepherd’s Lament" and is more plain than plaintive. Weber was back on form in a finale which is jaunty with just a few darker undertones. Fine playing is in evidence from Jaime Martin and the support is sympathetic.

Although Mozart wrote two gems, we are not overburdened with Piano Quartets and it has been a pleasure to discover this one. A relatively early work written over a two year period when times were hard for the composer (he was imprisoned for debt soon after it was completed), the overall four movement structure is conventional, the structures within the movements less so. Weber’s practice at the time was to start by composing slow movements (here this is placed second) followed by the finale. If the first movement represents Weber at his most original, the presto finale seems to make the greatest demands on the pianist and is superbly brought off by Susan Tomes.

The playing and recording on this disc are at a very high standard throughout. Supporting roles are filled with great expertise and everything sounds poised and beautifully balanced. As one would expect from this label, the documentation is also excellent with an authoritative contribution from John Warrack.

This is the first new Hyperion disc I have heard since news came of the adverse judgment in their legal case and it represents the kind of thing we may be missing in the future if their plans for new recordings have to be shelved. I am not sure whether or not the ordinary music lover can do anything about this but it will surely help if they show their support by purchasing discs such as this one. Go on – you will love it.

Patrick C Waller

Weber only wrote three chamber works - here they all are, beautifully played and well recorded on one highly desirable disc ... see Full Review

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