The Bohemian Stamič family, who Germanised
their name to Stamitz, were almost as musically prolific as
the Bach dynasty. Carl was the son of Johann, Mannheim court
composer at the time of his son’s birth, the grandson of Antonín
and the brother of Anton. The music of Johann and Carl is well
worth the attention that it has received from the record companies,
including an attractive volume of four of Carl’s symphonies
in Chandos’s very worthwhile Contemporaries of Mozart series,
from the LPO and Matthias Bamert (CHAN9358).
Attention to the Stamitz family’s music has come
not least from Naxos, who have also recorded an earlier volume
of Carl’s clarinet concertos with the same team (8.553584);
they regarded Concerto No.1 from this set highly enough to include
the third movement Rondeau on their 20th-anniversary
highlights CD (8.550020). On the evidence of this volume, they
were quite right to do so.
In 1770 Carl left the security of the Mannheim
court for employment with the Duke of Noialles and, in the following
year, for an itinerant career in Paris, London, the Hague and
various German cities before he settled, temporarily, in Kassel
in 1789. These clarinet concertos are believed to date from
his time in Paris in the early 1770s, where he met the famous
Bohemian clarinettist Johann Joseph Beer.
They thus predate Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto
by almost 20 years, yet they are attractive works; they
certainly possess the charm mentioned in Naxos’s rear insert,
but they have more strength than that description might imply.
They are not unworthy at least to stand comparison with the
Mozart concerto – after all, Mozart admired the Mannheim orchestra
– especially when they are as well performed as they are here.
The ‘hunting’ finale to Concerto No.11 (tr.9) is especially
attractive; not for nothing does the Chandos CD to which I’ve
referred portray a hunting scene; though painting of Paris on
the Naxos cover is attractive, it’s less appropriate.
Berkes plays with a very mellifluous tone, a
feature which no-one appreciates more than I do. Many years
ago a colleague who was trying to learn to play the clarinet
pitched in at the deep end with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto,
inspired by Jack Brymer’s recording with the RPO and Sir Thomas
Beecham – still available and still sounding first-rate on EMI
GROC 5 67596 2, coupled with the Bassoon Concerto and
‘Jupiter’ Symphony. When he couldn’t find anyone more
accomplished to accompany him, it fell to my lot to do so.
I don’t know who was the more incompetent; I was no substitute
for the RPO and he was certainly no Brymer, but at least I only
played wrong notes; I didn’t make the awful sound that only
an amateur clarinettist can produce. To hear a player of Berkes’
quality is still a considerable relief.
The support which he receives from the Esterházy
Sinfonia is always more than adequate and the recording is also
good. They perform on eight of the CDs in Naxos’s complete
symphony edition, recently reissued as a 34-CD set (8.503400
– see review).
Reviewing that set, Bob Briggs thought their contribution among
the best, reserving his greatest praise for their recording
of Symphony No.69, ‘Laudon’, coupled with Nos. 89 and 91 and
also available separately (8.550769). I can also recommend
several of their recordings of Vivaldi concertos. I rate their
support for Berkes just as highly as those Haydn and Vivaldi
This CD can stand comparison with other available
versions, such as Sabine Meyer’s of Nos.10 and 11, with the
Academy of St Martin and Iona Brown (EMI 7 54844 2). The music
generally benefits from Berkes’ mostly slightly faster tempi
in these two concertos, especially in the hunting finale of
No.11 which I’ve highlighted as one of the most attractive movements.
Meyer and Brown start the movement at a faster tempo and play
with a winning rhythm, even managing to convey the sound of
hunting dogs, but they pause occasionally to admire the scenery.
There’s not much in it; both make a good case for the music.
The Naxos notes are informative and well written.
If you’re wondering about the connection of two of the concertos
with Darmstadt, the notes make it clear that the nickname arose
simply from the fact that the scores were preserved there until
destroyed in the Second World War. I can almost guarantee that
if you buy this CD you’ll want Volume 1 (8.553584) and some
of Naxos’s other recordings of Carl Stamitz’s music. Another
feather in Naxos’s well-filled cap.