Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Clarinet Concertos
Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor [20:26]
Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat [19:56]
Clarinet Quintet in B flat (version for Clarinet and string orchestra) [26:11]
Fabio di Càsola (clarinet)
Russian Chamber Philharmonic St Petersburg/Juri Gilbo
rec. July 2008, Festeburg Kirche, Frankfurt, Germany
SONY 88697 376322 [66:49]

Weber’s works for the clarinet come second only to Mozart’s in terms of skill and popularity, but Weber’s voice is uniquely witty and distinctive. These works have had some great interpreters through the years, not least the wonderful Sabine Meyer with the Staatskapelle Dresden on EMI, but here the young Swiss Fabio di Càsola shows himself worthy of comparison with the best of them. He also has the benefit of Sony’s crystal-clear SACD sound to back him up.

Di Càsola’s playing is not always perfect: in the first concerto and in isolated sections of the Quintet there is the occasional fluff in the lightning-quick runs. It is testament to his musical consciousness, however, that what lingers in the memory is not the imperfections but the sense of wit and exuberance that permeates this music, especially the impish finale of the first concerto and the bubbly jocosity of the quintet’s Menuetto – it was surely a joke on Weber’s behalf not to call this movement a Scherzo! On the other hand the festive swagger that open the second concerto inhabits a completely different world reminsicent of Mozart’s great E-flat piano concerto K482, something the clarinet undermines brilliantly on its first entry.

In many ways, though, it is in the slower movements that di Càsola excels. If his playing of the dreamy slow movement of the first concerto doesn’t transport you to another world then you have no soul! Equally, the intensely dramatic Romanza of the second concerto, surely one of Weber’s finest achievements, is mystical and deep, sounding like it has come straight out of the world of Freischütz. Likewise, the brief but remarkably introverted Adagio-Fantasy of the Quintet sounds almost Wagnerian in its intensity.

The Russian Chamber Philharmonic St Petersburg have the character of a group of individual virtuosi all playing as one. They encompass the scale of the E flat grandeur in the second concerto but also get to grips with the stormy F minor turbulence at the opening of the first. Juri Gilbo’s direction is secure without ever getting in the way: his reading seems designed to echo Weber’s famous inspiration from nature, freeing the music to evoke landscapes and, indeed, whole worlds. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the full-orchestra arrangement of the Quintet, missing the transparency and delicacy of the original, but that’s a small gripe in what is a very satisfying disc.

Simon Thompson