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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Clarinet Concerto No. 3 in F minor, WoO 19 (1821) [27:21]
Clarinet Concerto No. 4 in E minor, WoO 20 (1828-9) [25:20]
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Robin O'Neill
rec. Írebro Konserthuset, Írebro, Sweden, June 2006
HYPERION CDA67561 [52:43]


Experience Classicsonline

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.

The 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.

It 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.

Robin O'Neill draws polished accompaniments from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and Hyperion's engineering enhances them with a gently warm ambience.

Stephen Francis Vasta


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