Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 - 1826)
Quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello in B flat, op. 34 (J 182) [27:47]
Aufforderung zum Tanze for pianoforte, op. 65 (J 260) [9:43]
Trio for transverse flute, cello and pianoforte in g minor, op. 63 (J 259) [23:17]
Van Swieten Society (Marion Moonen (transverse flute), Frank van den Brink (clarinet), Igor Rukhadze, Franc Polman (violin), Bernadette Verhagen (viola), Job ter Haar (cello), Bart van Oort (fortepiano))
rec. 9-11 June 2008, Lutheran Church, Deventer, Netherlands. DDD
QUINTONE Q09001 [60:50]
Carl Maria von Weber is an important figure in music history. In many ways he laid the foundation of German romantic music. The likes of Wagner, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt were influenced by him. Hector Berlioz greatly admired his orchestration, and was full of praise for his treatment of the clarinet.
This instrument takes an important place in Weber’s instrumental oeuvre which is rather limited. He composed two solo concertos and a concertino, a sonata for clarinet and pianoforte and a quintet for clarinet and strings. They belong to the very best composed for the clarinet in the 19th century. Modern clarinettists are happy with these pieces, for which they may thank Heinrich Baermann, the famous clarinettist for whom Weber wrote most of these works - the exception being the sonata. Baermann was a son of a military man who sent him and his brother to the School of Military Music in Potsdam. He started to learn the oboe, and later took lessons at the clarinet with Joseph Beer, the first clarinet virtuoso in history.
Baermann travelled across Europe as a virtuoso and earned much praise for his beautiful tone and expressive playing. Mendelssohn, who also was inspired by Baermann in writing music for the clarinet, stated that "he is one of the best musicians I know: one of those who carry everyone along with them, and who feel the true life and fire of music, and to whom music has become speech". Weber particularly noted the "welcome homogeneity of tone from top to bottom" in his playing. The Quintet in B flat, written in 1815, was his birthday gift for Baermann. He must be happy with it as it gave him the opportunity to show his skills. The first two movements display the lyrical qualities of the clarinet, especially in the expressive second movement, fantasia (adagio). In the two remaining movements the clarinettist is allowed to show his technical brilliance, in particular through virtuosic passagework. Frank van den Brink delivers an impressive performance, with a beautiful warm tone in the first movements and great agility in the passagework of the playful menuetto capriccio. One of the virtues of period instruments is their ability to blend, and as a result the balance between the clarinet and the strings is always right, even when the clarinet plays forte.
The Aufforderung zum Tanze is best-known in the orchestral version which was created by Hector Berlioz, clearly an expression of his admiration for the composer. It is nice to hear it as it was conceived, a piece for piano in three sections, with a rather introverted beginning and ending, and in between the depiction of the dance itself. In her liner-notes Sylvia Berry gives a description of what Weber wanted to express, which is most helpful in understanding the piece. That is not speculation, by the way, but based on an account of the programme by Weber's wife Caroline, to whom he had dedicated this piece. Bart van Oort plays it in an imaginative way, with good contrast between the various episodes. The dynamic possibilities of the period piano - unfortunately not specified in the booklet - are explored in the interest of the expression of the piece's content.
This work was composed in 1819, which was a fruitful year for Weber: he also finished Der Freischütz, wrote various piano pieces and created the Trio in g minor, op. 63. The scoring for flute, cello and pianoforte is unusual for the time. Notable is the fact that the cello doesn't take a subservient role as was common in many piano trios of the time. This can be explained from the fact that it was dedicated to Dr. Philipp Jungh, a friend of Weber's and a skilful amateur cellist. It is also assumed that the third movement, andante espressivo, is an arrangement of the Variations for cello and pianoforte from around 1813, which were also dedicated to Jungh; this work has been lost. This movement is based on a German song, Schäfers Klage, with words by Goethe, who had set them to an existing folk melody. Sylvia Berry writes at length about the movement, stating that Weber arranged all six of the song's stanzas. It is nice that the melody and the full text are printed in the booklet. It is not uncommon for this time that composers were inspired by poems or folk songs. Ms Berry also refers to parallels between the first movement of this trio and Der Freischütz. The first three movements have a rather gloomy character; Berry even calls the scherzo a "maniacal dance". The third movement is - as one may expect from a song with this title, "Shepherd's lament" - not very joyful. It is only in the last movement that the atmosphere begins to loosen. The Van Swieten Society gives a fine performance, with a perfect balance between the three instruments. The often haunting character of the piece comes off well, and the andante espressivo receives the expressive performance Weber requires.
Chamber music by Weber is not that often performed on period instruments. I have heard the Trio once before, in an Amon Ra recording with Stephen Preston, Jennifer Ward Clarke and Richard Burnett, but I don't know whether this LP has ever made it to CD. This new disc deserves an enthusiastic welcome.
Johan van Veen
This disc deserves an enthusiastic welcome.