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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Clarinet concerto No.1 in F minor, Op.73 (1811) [21:27]^
Bassoon concerto in F major, Op.75 (1811) [17:35]*
Clarinet concerto No.2 in E flat major, Op.74 (1811) [22:37]^#
Andante and Hungarian Rondo, Op.35 (1809) [9:46]*#
Michel Arrignon (clarinet)^, Jean-Claude Montac (bassoon)*,
Sinfonietta de Chambord/Amaury du Closel
rec. 1988, 1990#. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

With this release Quantum Classics' Edition Reprise resurrects some worthy all-French performances that slipped under the radar on their first release on Karusel.

The drawcard here is Michel Arrignon's brace of Weber clarinet concertos. Arrignon built much of his career as a contemporary music specialist, in particular through his involvement with Pierre Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. He nevertheless has an intuitive feeling for these early romantic concertos with their operatic solo lines. He imbues his opening phrases of the first concerto's first movement with a wistful sadness that also finds expression in the slow movement. He also handles the more outwardly showy passages in the outer movements with aplomb, colouring his solo line with striking hues. Arrignon breathes a sighing romanza for the second concerto, almost hanging back on the beat in sadness and disappearing in the most delicate of pianissimos at the close. The final movement is nicely proportioned and Arringnon's characterisation is sunny.

These are enjoyable performances, make no mistake. However, my reference recording - Martin Fröst on BIS - put them in the shade. Fröst's subtle shifts of mood, bold projection and gorgeous tone are arresting, and where Arrignon phrases with taste and colour, Fröst phrases with drama. I also prefer his tempi: in both concertos Fröst whips up the outer movements, and he lingers even more lovingly than Arrignon over the second concerto's romanza second movement.

He also has the better orchestra behind him. Jean-Jacques Kantorow directs the Tapiola Sinfonietta in a taut, transparent, exciting dialogue with his soloist that the Sinfonietta de Chambord and du Closel simply cannot match, genial as they are. The martial opening of the second concerto is a case in point: in proper concerto style the Tapiola Sinfonietta gives Fröst a contest and a sounding board, a conversational partner and an adversary; Arrignon is given charming accompaniment. The French orchestra is also fallible, getting out of time with their soloist around 5:10 in the first concerto's finale. The horns sound fairly mushy too.

Rather than rounding out the disc with Weber’s clarinet concertino and quintet like most of the competition, the two clarinet concertos are punctuated here by Weber's bassoon concerto and followed by his earlier Andante and Hungarian Rondo also for bassoon. In the andante of the latter, Jean-Claude Montac has a nice singing tone in the upper part of his register, but is a touch bland. There is more variation to his tone and verve to his playing in the rondo, which has a nice jauntiness to it. His octave leaps here are effortlessly smooth. The concerto also comes off well. I was particularly impressed by the singing quality of his playing in the slow movement.

As in the clarinet concertos, the orchestra provides tasteful support without being outstanding. Again there are slight timing issues between soloist and orchestra towards the end of the piece as Montac surges through Weber's florid figurations.

The recorded sound is clear and relatively warm but the clacking of the bassoon keys in the finale of the bassoon concerto is mildly irritating. The brief liner notes are in French and English.

These performances are unlikely to oust your favourites, but if the coupling appeals this disc is worth investigating.

Tim Perry



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