Bernhard Henrik Crusell was born in Nystad in 1775 which 34 years later reverted to being the Finnish Uusikaupunki. By that time the virtuoso clarinetist Crusell was already living in Stockholm, a member of the Royal Court Orchestra. Nowadays he is best known for his clarinet concertos which put him in the company of Spohr and Weber, which is to say: just one rung below Mozart in the clarinet concerto world.
The accessibility and beauty, the virtuosity and classical-era delightfulness with just the right dash of early romantic flair and heft mean that every time these Crusell concertos are recorded, they are happily re-discovered anew. You can’t find a recording of these works that isn’t recommended and from what I’ve sampled it’s hard to find one that isn’t actually recommendable. Martin Fröst’s recording with Okko Kamu and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (BIS) joins that line right at the head of the queue.
Whether in the Mozart-influenced B-flat Concerto op.11 from about 1807 (a touch of Zauberflöte
in the opening flute melody, a hint of Mozartian lyricism in the marvellous Andante moderato
) or the virtuoso E-flat Concerto op.1 (1810) with its purring clarinet runs, Fröst gives evidence why he is indisputably one of the finest clarinetists around. His beauty of tone, the economy of means with which he achieves it, his breath control, his curiosity, and his rhythmic vitality leap off the disc. The crown jewel among these concertos is the one programmed first on the disc; op.5 and likely the last to be composed of these three (1815). Instead of a concerto whose job it is to display the clarinet, we now have a concerto that integrates the clarinet as an essential, but also supportive part. As Fabian Dahlström mentions in the liner-notes: “Crusell kept half an eye on Beethoven” when he composed this, his foremost work.
Anyone looking for the Crusell clarinet concertos is well advised
to go straight to this BIS SACD (5.0 surround) with Fröst and
not bother with stops at Thea King (Helios), Kari Kriikku (Ondine,
review by Gwyn Parry-Jones
), Karl Leister (BIS), or Per Billman
(Naxos). And while none of those others need
to be replaced,
anyone who really loves one or all of these three concertos might
be tempted to double up and add Fröst to their collection. Clarinet
aficionados probably don’t need any encouragement; they pick up
every new Fröst release as it comes out, anyway.
Jens F. Laurson