Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Concertante Works for Clarinet and Horn
Clarinet Concertino in E flat major, Op. 26, J 109 (1811) [9:01]
Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73, J 114 (1811) [20:39]
Horn Concertino in E minor, Op. 45, J 188 (1806, rev. 1815) [15:39]
Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 74, J 118 (1811) [21:44] 
Stephen Stirling, horn (Op. 45)
City of London Sinfonia/Michael Collins (clarinet)
rec. 8-9 April 2011, St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10702 [67:29]
On this new Chandos disc Michael Collins conducts and is also soloist in the three clarinet scores.
Today it is hard to image that Weber in his day was regarded as one of the leading progressive composers of the Romantic school. His operas, Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon were highly influential and at the forefront of early German Romantic Opera.
In recent decades for such an important composer Weber’s works have rather fallen out of favour. Occasionally, however, I notice the staging of a Weber opera and sometimes his overtures and a number of his concertante scores are played on the radio.
Weber wrote a considerable number of songs and chorus works but I have yet to see one programmed. The concertante works by Weber most likely to be heard today are those that he wrote for clarinet namely the two Clarinet Concertos, the Clarinet Concertino and the Clarinet Quintet. There is also a Grand Duo Concertante for clarinet and piano. Although a chamber work I feel it would have made a more appropriate inclusion on the disc than the Horn Concertino.
Weber’s two Clarinet Concertos and the Concertino for clarinet and orchestra are mainstays of the clarinet repertoire. Just over a year ago I interviewed Sabine Meyer prior to her concert with the BBC Philharmonic at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. Tellingly Meyer didn’t play the Mozart’s highly popular Clarinet Concerto but elected to perform Weber’s first Clarinet Concerto.
In the same way that Brahms wrote works especially for Richard Mühlfeld a clarinettist that he so admired in 1811 Weber composed three works for his friend Heinrich Baermann (Bärmann) who was the principal clarinettist of the Munich court orchestra. Baermann would typically add his own embellishments to Weber’s scores.
The short Concertino in E flat major for clarinet and orchestra, Op. 26 is cast in three movements. It seems that the King of Bavaria was at the successful première and subsequently commissioned Weber to write two full-size Clarinet concertos. The second movement Andante comprises a theme and a set of variations. This is most attractive and displays Collins’ impressive shifts in tempi.
Described as being the most operatic of all Weber’s concertante scores the Clarinet Concerto No. 1 is a jewel in the clarinet repertoire. The highly melodic and joyously carefree Finale - a Rondo - Allegretto - reminded me of a Mendelssohnian “elfin” Scherzo such as the Octet. Compared to the first Clarinet Concerto the Clarinet Concerto No. 2 has greater buoyancy and is more melodic rather like the Clarinet Concertino. The opening Allegro is typically upbeat and jaunty and highly appealing. There’s intriguing writing here and gloriously played by Collins who is so smooth and expressive. Collins takes the technically challenging Polacca movement at just the right pace dance-like and exhilarating. The highly virtuosic Coda is a real audience-pleaser. Collins’ silvery-smooth tone throughout is quite delightful.
Weber also admired the horn as confirmed by the wonderful horn chorus in the slow opening to the Der Freischütz overture. The composer was a mere teenager when he wrote his Concertino in E minor in 1806 for the natural horn virtuoso C. Dautrevaux at the Carlsruhe court. In 1815 at Munich Weber revised it for soloist Sebastian Rauch and then discarded the original score. The second movement Andante con moto - Con fuco rather dragged its feet. In the higher registers of the third movement soloist Stephen Stirling provides bright, herald-like playing and the highly enjoyable Finale marked Alla Polacca is upbeat and vivacious.
For me the first choice in Weber’s clarinet repertoire is renowned soloist Sabine Meyer’s re-mastered accounts of Weber’s three concertante scores with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Herbert Blomstedt. That release also includes Meyer in Weber’s clarinet quintet in the version for string orchestra by the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn under Jörg Faerber. This is justly one of EMI’s ‘Great Recordings Of The Century’ series 5 67988 2.
These are impressive performances. The sound quality is most impressive. Excellent booklet notes by Michael Collins cap a fine release.
Michael Cookson
Impressive performances. A fine release.