Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Clarinet Concerto No 1 in C minor, Op 26 [18:51]
Clarinet Concerto No 2 in E flat, Op 57 [23:25]
Clarinet Concerto No 3 in F minor, WoO 19 [24:34]
Clarinet Concerto No 4 in E minor, WoO 20 [25:17]
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Paul Meyer (clarinet)
rec. 4-6 January 2012, Salle Métropole, Lausanne, Switzerland
ALPHA 605 [42:16 + 49:51]
Louis Spohr’s first clarinet concerto starts with, of all things, a drum roll, and we do not have to wait long for the soloist’s entrance, clear hints of an early romantic composer with innovation on the mind. It also starts with a brazen plagiarism of Haydn’s 95th Symphony, which Spohr uses as the allegro’s main theme. This is Louis Spohr in a nutshell: a craftsman of great quality, a creator of many surprising or pleasing sounds, but ultimately not an original voice.
The first concerto is better than I’ve made it sound, with a slow movement that’s little more than an introduction to a clever finale that bounces between major and minor keys like a ping-pong ball (it also hides a Mozart concerto quote in the orchestral winds). The other three concertos assembled here offer similar effervescent pleasures: anyone who likes similar works by Weber or Crusell will love this.
My favorite might be the second concerto, which is the only one in a major key but compensates for its lack of drama with sheer delightful good spirits and, in the finale, some thrilling virtuosity. The third, in F minor (key of Weber’s first concerto), finds Spohr using a full orchestral introduction for the first time in the set, and striking a very pleasing balance between his chosen key and his natural humor and charm. The fourth, in E minor, dates from 1828 and is the largest and most serious, with a big brooding introduction but, conversely, a cutesy “Spanish” finale which is more enjoyable than it is authentic.
No presentation of the Spohr clarinet concertos can top this. Paul Meyer is a superb soloist, one of our very best, and he has all the technique, lightness of tone, and imagination needed to present this music in the best possible light. I cite imagination, by the way, because Spohr evidently made very few notes on articulations, and Meyer’s choices always feel natural and ‘right.’ In the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra he has found a very successful partnership, and the Alpha label’s top-end production (the pack folds open bill-fold style to reveal the CDs and a 40-page booklet with extensive essays in English and French) is a luxurious touch, although the track timings for the fourth concerto are quite wrong. Throw in natural acoustics which very warmly embrace the orchestra of 38 and the soloist, and this is so good that it borders on essential for the classical-era enthusiast.
So good that it borders on essential for anyone who likes the clarinet concertos of Mozart, Weber, and Crusell.