Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Oboe Concerto in C, K314, arr. Siegenthaler for clarinet [19:11]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Clarinet Concerto No 1 in F minor, Op 73 [20:48]
Bernhard Henrik CRUSELL (1775-1836)
Clarinet Concerto No 3 in B flat, Op 11 [23:07]
Stephan Siegenthaler (clarinet)
Cappella Istropolitana/Kaspar Zehnder
rec. 20-22 September 2010, Moyzes Hall, Bratislava
SHEVA COLLECTION SH040 [63:06]
Stephan Siegenthaler has taken an unusual path to a recording career. He studied the clarinet in school and had an active chamber and orchestral life until 1995, when he jumped into the medical industry as managing director of a device corporation. Recently Siegenthaler has returned (“after the sale of the company to a global player”) to professional playing and teaching of the clarinet.
His very classical recital here begins with a Mozart clarinet concerto — but not that one! This is Siegenthaler’s own arrangement of the oboe concerto K. 314. I’d challenge that a bit more — do we really need a second clarinet concerto? — except that Siegenthaler’s transcription is so natural, so effortless, that it really feels like an original piece. The soloist lavishes obvious affection on his instrument’s turns of phrase, too. The cadenza, by Kurt Meier, sounds like a clarinet original as well, really milking the instrument’s rich lower range.
The other two concertos here are masterworks. Carl Maria von Weber’s first concerto is a fairly well-known classic; Bernhard Crusell’s third concerto is less celebrated, but there are some superb Crusell CDs about, starting with Martin Fröst’s account of the three concertos on BIS, a gem of great clarinet playing. Siegenthaler delivers a very good reading of the Weber, let down a little by the unthreatening ensemble at the end of the first movement and an occasional tendency to be piercing in the slow movement. That same movement, though, features lovely interplay with and between the horns, and the finale is bubbly and pleasing. Those adjectives are doubly true of the Crusell, though Fröst’s playing is even cooler, even more refined, as is that of his orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony.
The Slovak backing band, the Cappella Istropolitana, has a good handle on classical style and phrases the works refinement, but the violins’ timbre sounds consistently a bit scratchy and unsteady. It is surprising, really, since they were models of tonal beauty when recording Suk and Dvorák serenades for Naxos twenty years ago. Naxos’ old Slovak producers are in charge here, too, and if anything their preference has gone from too-recessed to too-close sound: we can hear many of Siegenthaler’s clicks. Sheva Collection, a label which I’d never heard before, offers a fairly cheaply produced disc using what appears to be a CD-R (the data surface is still blue).
If you’d like to hear the natural, ear-pleasing arrangement of Mozart’s oboe concerto for clarinet, none of that should deter you. The quality of playing here is well above that of a vanity production, and so is the collection’s value.
Sheva Collection CDs can be hard to find. The best place to grab a physical copy is here on MusicWeb International, where the entire catalog is available and shipped worldwide with postage paid. Amazon offers an MP3 version of the full album for half the price (search “siegenthaler clarinet”), but neither Amazon nor MDT have the physical disc.
Siegenthaler, once a medical entrepreneur, is still an accomplished clarinetist, and has created his own “new” Mozart concerto.