Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Symphony No.2 in C major, J51 (1808) [18.11]
Andante e Rondo Ungarese, J158 for bassoon and orchestra (1809/1813) [9.03]
Concerto in F major for Bassoon and Orchestra, J127 (1811, rev.1822) [16.45]
Symphony No.1 in C major, J50 (1807-1808) [22.36]
Jaakko Luoma (bassoon)
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
rec. March and May 2006 Tapiola Hall, Espoo, Finland, April 2008, Sello Hall, Espoo
BIS BIS-SACD-1620 [67:42]

These works were all written between 1807 and 1811, so pre-date Weber’s fame as an opera composer. He had just left Breslau, having survived a dreadful accident when his father, a printer, left a nitric acid solution in a wine glass which his son absent-mindedly then drank. His next post was a temporary one, when he went to Bad Carlsruhe and the court of Count Eugen Friedrich of Württemberg-Őls, who, being himself a fair oboist, encouraged Weber to compose. Both symphonies were written there during these idyllic few months, the first in C major in December 1807 and January 1808, the second (also in C major) later the same month. Reflecting the resources he found there, the scoring lacks one flute and most surprisingly there are no clarinets. Solos for the rest abound however, some of them very demanding, so standards must have been high. Obviously the oboe has his plate full, but the remaining winds, particularly the bassoon, are active, so too the French horn and some solo strings; in fact pretty well everyone has their fifteen seconds of fame. Written when Beethoven’s first three symphonies were already known, it is important to regard Weber’s more in Haydn’s style, with the crossing of the cusp between Classic and Romantic reflected more by orchestral colour than any disturbance of formal structure. Even so, these are not predictable works, in particular the finale of the Second, which stops and starts for individual solos before scampering on to the next pause like an American football game. This is Haydn’s wit at work. Much the same can be said of the First Symphony, which highlights individual wind players once again. It is full of confident orchestral outbursts on the one hand - the opera conductor here - and charming melodies of an almost rustic hue. At a minute and a half, the Minuet and Trio of the Second Symphony must be the shortest ever. Note that this recording inexplicably starts with the Second Symphony and ends with the First, easy to miss that as both are in the same key.

The rest of the fare is devoted to two concerted works for bassoon and orchestra. The brief Andante and Hungarian Rondo was originally composed in 1809 for Weber’s violist brother Fritz, while the bassoon transcription was made for the virtuoso player Georg Friedrich Brandt with some inevitably consequent changes. The Rondo’s rhythms emphasise the Hungarian flavour of the music. Weber’s writing exploits fully the facility of the instrument, its agility over a wide range of notes, tonal quality, and its lyrical as well as comical element. It was in March 1810 that he found himself conducting a concert with the Munich Court Orchestra, its programme including a clarinet concertino he had written for Heinrich Bärmann. Its success encouraged the orchestra’s principal players to ask for solo works, so two concertos for clarinet followed in 1811 and, on 28 December, a bassoon concerto for Brandt. He made some revisions in 1822, expression and dynamic indications expanded and some string accompaniments rewritten, and this is the version heard on this CD.

The performances by Jaako Luoma are finely honed in both works. His instrument paints a wide palette of colour, his phrasing is stylish. The Tapiola Sinfonietta under its former (1993-2000) director Jean-Jacques Kantorow match him in detail in a cleanly balanced recording. Both symphonies are played with relish, all solo opportunities exploited to the full. The music is charming, but Weber is surely still going to be remembered best for his operas and their overtures, but at least it gives clarinettists and, in this instance, bassoonists a chance to shine. 

Christopher Fifield