Christian WESTERHOFF (1763-1806)
Clarinet Concerto in B flat, Op. 5 [18:50]
Concerto for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Orchestra in B flat [22:14]
Symphony in E flat [22:05]
Sebastian Manz (clarinet); Albrecht Holder (bassoon)
Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Bäumer
rec. 17-22 May, 2010, Stadthalle Osnabrück, Germany
CPO 777 598-2 [63:09]
Really very little is known about Christian Westerhoff except that his music is wonderful. If you like the music of the late 1700s, it will be of very great appeal; the clarinet concerto sparkles and the symphony is a charmer of serious craft for someone so little-known.
Westerhoff was composing at the same time Beethoven got his start, but he lived in the patronage system more commonly associated with his predecessors, becoming concertmaster to the ensemble of a certain Princess Juliane von Schaumburg-Lippe. Very shortly before Westerhoff’s arrival, the position had been vacated by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach. The job had an unfortunate tendency to see its occupants die young, and by the age of 42 - or maybe 43; apparently we’re not sure - Westerhoff too was gone.
Very few scores of his remain, including these three works, a flute concerto and a viola concerto. Of the pieces on this CD only the Clarinet Concerto Op 5 was ever published (1798), and its appeal would have been obvious: in just under twenty minutes, it wins us over with a refined pastoral mood and felicitous writing for the solo instrument. The clarinet enters immediately with the main theme and then bows out for the duration of the orchestral introduction, much like Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, which debuted almost a decade later. The finale is a theme and variations the ending of which is especially pleasing. The clarinet concerto is actually the inspiration for this CD: it was rediscovered by the celebrated soloist Dieter Klöcker, who died in 2011 leaving a legacy of acclaimed recordings on EMI, MDG, CPO, Marco Polo and other labels. Klöcker worked wonders for clarinet fans by enormously expanding our knowledge of classical- and romantic-era works; his passionate sleuthing for more great music is what revealed the Westerhoff concerto, which he then passed on to budding star Sebastian Manz. Manz composed a short but quite clever cadenza for this recording at Klöcker’s suggestion.
The other two works are equally fine: a double concerto sees the clarinet and bassoon really treated as equals; I am quite impressed by Westerhoff’s willingness to give the bassoon big solos, lyrical lines, and virtuoso material, rather than treating it as the lesser of two partners. Unlike the clarinet concerto, this piece launches with a more substantial orchestral introduction. Otherwise the pieces are very similar: both in B flat, both with identical tempo markings, both notable for the substance and playfulness of their finales. The first movement does get a little too long for its material, but the soloists also have a lovely duet-cadenza. Westerhoff’s adagios aren’t much, but he knows it so he shifts the center of gravity to his clever endings; the double concerto finale features an intermittent orchestral line that recalls Haydn’s Bear symphony. 

Then we have the Symphony in E flat, for slightly expanded orchestra with timpani, which has a stately introduction before taking off the mask and launching into a whirling delight of a poco presto, featuring a bassoon solo and some writing for trumpets and horns which sounds a lot like the early Schubert symphonies. The finale is again a highlight, and again foreshadows early Schubert.
The Osnabrück Symphony and Hermann Bäumer are at home in the music, delivering with great style. These are modern instruments, incidentally. Sebastian Manz repays the trust placed in him by Dieter Klöcker, and Albrecht Holder revels in the beefy bassoon part in the double concerto. With good sound and an unusually (for CPO) interesting booklet note containing Manz’s recollection of a conversation with Klöcker, this is an easy choice for anybody who likes music from the late classical era.
Brian Reinhart 

An easy choice for anybody who likes music from the era of Weber and young Schubert.