This pairing comes off altogether better than its series predecessor
(Hyperion CDA67509), which offered the same artists in the first
two clarinet concertos and other concerted pieces. I suspect that,
undistracted by the hodgepodgy First Concerto, one can more readily
appreciate the composer's sheer craftsmanship. His orchestration
is skilful and effective, and his themes are appealing, if not
always memorable. The music tends to be conventional in its overall
cut, but imaginative in some details. The slow movements hint
at real elegance, though they're brassier than one might expect;
the Classical composers, after all, used to leave those instruments
out of those movements. The opening of the F minor concerto's
Vivace non troppo finale is a bit flatfooted, but the music
picks up a greater sense of purpose and direction, fortunately,
at the first tutti.
E minor concerto makes the stronger immediate impression of
these two, beginning as it does with a mysterious dark, blended
unison, the sonority opening out as the textures rise and expand.
The F minor's Adagio incorporates a brief passage for
the clarinet in its low chalumeau register at 5:41, a
favourite device of Spohr's. The effect should be used sparingly,
but the composer seems to know just how long he can maintain
that dark colour before monotony sets in.
takes first-class performers, of course, to bring off second-tier
music of this sort, and Hyperion's team certainly meets the
description. Michael Collins's technical command of the clarinet
is by now familiar. He takes all the showy fingerwork in stride.
I particularly enjoyed several sequences of arpeggiated flourishes,
especially those interspersed with the stuttering main theme
of the E minor's concluding Rondo al espagnol. But true
virtuosity encompasses, along with all the flash, the ability
to shape and colour phrases, and Collins's melting expressiveness
in the E minor's Larghetto offers ample evidence of that.
The melodic scansion briefly goes awry in a hiccoughy series
of arpeggios at 9:16 of the F minor's first movement, but I'm
inclined to blame that small misfire on the composer - the figure
just sounds awkward.
O'Neill draws polished accompaniments from the Swedish Chamber
Orchestra, and Hyperion's engineering enhances them with a gently