Bernhard Henrik CRUSELL (1775-1838)
Complete Clarinet Concertos and Quartets
Clarinet Concerto no.1 in E flat, op.1 (?1803-05) [22:54]
Clarinet Concerto no.2 in F minor, op.5 (1815) [25:08]
Clarinet Concerto no.3 in B flat, op.11 (?1807) [25:31]
Clarinet Quartet no.1 in E flat, op.2 [22:10]
Clarinet Quartet no.3 in D, op.7 [25:02]
Clarinet Quartet no.2 in C minor, op.4 [18:28]
Emma Johnson (clarinet: concertos)
Henk de Graaf (clarinet: quartets)
English Chamber Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
Daniel String Quartet trio (Misha Furman (violin), Itamar Shimon (viola), Joanna Pachucka (cello))
rec. Protestant church, De Glind, Barneveld, Netherlands, 17-18 November 2007 [quartetss] Concertos - no information]. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94219 [73:58 + 66:06]
This release from Brilliant Classics brings together several of ethnic Swedish composer Bernhard Crusell's key works in a handy double disc set. It features some classic Emma Johnson recordings licensed from ASV (now belonging to Universal Music) and the previously unreleased Quartets as performed by Henk de Graaf.
The Concerto recordings have made several appearances over the years initially on ASV, followed first by Sanctuary's Resonance label, then UMC. Now Brilliant have sought to capitalise on Emma Johnson's popularity - a popularity that began with her success in the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition in 1984 - which she won, incidentally, with a performance of Crusell's F minor Concerto. This led to a profusion of CD titles like "The Art of Emma Johnson" and "The Essential Emma Johnson": the art of reselling essentially the same recordings, more like!
It must be said, however, that Crusell's three Clarinet Concertos would grace any music-lover's collection, and whilst it would be interesting to have new recordings of them by Johnson (and Schwarz, for that matter), for those still without, these will do nicely in any case.
The Concertos are all cut from the same cloth, as the timings suggest: two-and-a-half minutes separates the three of them, with a long fast first movement, a short slow second and an upbeat finale of medium length. There is some uncertainty over dates of composition, but the range is less than ten years - some time in the first and second decades of the 19th century, although the Third may have been revised as late as the mid-1820s.
At any rate they are stylistically very similar: warm, genial works with very attractive slow movements and many passages elsewhere of excitement and even bravura. The Second and Third are as memorable as those by Weber, with which they are almost exactly contemporaneous. Like Weber's works, Crusell's have managed to stay in the clarinet concerto repertoire despite the low profile of their creator and the fact that they came from a period of relative upheaval for the clarinet.
Crusell's own favourite was the proto-Romantic F minor Concerto - almost certainly his most mature, despite its opus number, and certainly lovely. However the invention and virtuosity of the B flat, not to mention its dreamy Mozartean slow movement, may make the greater audience-pleaser.
Sound quality on this disc is fairly good, if a little over-processed. For the Third Concerto the microphones are noticeably further away, alleviated by a turn of the volume button.
What the three Clarinet Quartets lack by comparison in virtuosity they more than compensate for in elegance, joie de vivre and cantabile mellifluousness. The dates of composition are unclear - the first may have been written as early as 1803, the latest certainly by 1822. They are in any case roughly contemporaneous with those by Xavier Lefèvre - see review of two played by Eduard Brunner released last year on Tudor - and certainly share the same wide appeal. As with the Concertos, the minor key work stands out for its pensive passages, and much other brilliant writing besides, but the longest and best is the Schubertian Quartet in D, among the finest examples of the genre of the late-Classical period.
Sound quality on this CD is very much higher, marked down slightly for the occasional intrusion of traffic noise. The one minor regret is the closeness of the microphone to Henk de Graaf's clarinet - too much air noise is picked up in the quieter passages.
Founding member and cellist of the multinational Daniel String Quartet Zvi Maschkowski is replaced for this recording by the peripatetic Joanna Pachucka. The three strings have their moments sharing the spotlight, particularly in the Quartet in D, and they accept them with great poise. Generally Crusell's writing focuses on the clarinet, and brings out the best here in Henk de Graaf, who performs with a tone and spirit to match his technique.
The booklet notes are not exactly extravagant, but they are sufficient. Most of the technical information is supplied, though it would not have harmed Brilliant to look up and include the location and dates of the ASV recordings.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Elegance, joie de vivre and cantabile mellifluousness.