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Franz KROMMER (1759-1831)
Sinfonia concertante in D, Op. 80 (1808) [35:43]
Clarinet Concerto in E flat, Op.36 (1803) [21:00]
Dimitri Ashkenazy (clarinet)
Jelika Kuthier (flute)
Kamilla Schatz (violin)
Northern Sinfonia/Howard Griffiths
rec. All Saints Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1994

Franz Krommer was born in Kamenice, in Moravia, as František Kramář; Czech productions bill him, confusingly, as Krommer-Kramář. He adopted the Germanic form of his name when he moved to Vienna -- a "lateral" move, in the days of the Empire -- where he would eventually become the Emperor's director of chamber music. Krommer composed in all the standard forms: the London Mozart Players serve up two of his symphonies nicely on Chandos CHAN 9275, if you're interested. His writing for woodwinds, like that of Domenico Cimarosa in Italy, was particularly imaginative and colourful; his mellifluous, generally sunny concerti and chamber compositions for these instruments are gems. To my mind, he ranks just below the period's considerable best.

Krommer's take on the Sinfonia concertante, or concerto for multiple instruments, offers a few surprises. He casts it in the five-movement form of the divertimento, rather than the customary three-movement concerto structure. The first movement begins, not with the expected orchestral ritornello, but with the solo violin outlining an arpeggio, answered by the orchestra; it's the soloists who lead the exposition of a standard sonata form, complete with repeat. The lively Scherzo takes in both hemiolae and triplets, with a genial, relaxed Trio. The duple meter of the central Adagio quasi Andante risks squareness, but the embellishments for the various soloists supply the needed motion. In the fourth movement, a Polacca, the main theme, in an agitated minor, highlights the violin, while the cheerful "B" sections showcase the two winds, separately and together. The finale, anchored by a sturdy, striding bass line, rounds things off effectively.

Krommer sometimes has the two wind soloists trade off solo lines; elsewhere, they play together, in orchestral style. Clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, the album's featured soloist, and flutist Jelika Kuthier are first-class; Kuthier's round, firm sound balances well with Ashkenazy's and maintains parity in their "duelling" solos. The violinist, Kamilla Schatz, does well where firm, incisive bowing is needed. Her legato playing, however, can be runny, and her stiff rubatos in the first-movement exposition obscure the music's scansion.

The E-flat concerto follows more conventional patterns, but Krommer still gives them an individual twist: trumpets and drums figure prominently -- not just as cadential punctuation -- in the vigorous, bustling ritornello, which somehow remains graceful rather than driven. Ashkenazy, given more scope here on his own, takes the steadily accumulating embellishments -- gruppetti as well as the usual scales and arpeggios -- in stride, while projecting broad, arching musical lines. In the central, minor-key Adagio, the clarinet spins out long, brooding phrases over a rhythmic string accompaniment. The closing Rondo is a springy 6/8, occasionally ducking anxiously into the minor.

The ensemble under Griffiths plays with alert style. The sound is excellent; a long ambience helps "beef up" the orchestral sonority, and Ashkenazy is favoured slightly among the three soloists of Opus 80. Recommended, especially for that score.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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