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Heinrich Joseph BAERMANN (1784-1847)
Notturno in F minor [6:43]
Introduktion und Polonaise, Op 25 [4:56]
Air Varié, Op 12 No 2 [8:59]
Carl BAERMANN (1810-1885]
Verlorenes Glück, Op 30 [4:56]
6 Lieder (F. Schubert) [20:54]
Die kleine Bettlerin, Op 14 [5:33]
Fantasie Brillante, Op 7 [14:02]
Dario Zingales (clarinet)
Florian Podgoreanu (piano)
rec. 2016 Salzburg
First recordings except 6 Lieder

The music on this CD features a father-and-son act, whose surname is virtually synonymous with the clarinet itself and the way it was and would subsequently be played. Indeed, the sleeve-notes, from Italian clarinettist Dario Zingales, who is also the soloist here, confirm that Heinrich (father) and Carl (son) Baermann are undoubtedly among the greatest clarinet virtuosi of all times, as well as composers for the instrument in their own right.

The former’s Notturno in F minor comprises the first track. Initially, it had me checking that I was actually listening to the right piece, given that a ‘Notturno’, merely the Italian form of ‘Nocturne’, is generally thought of as being tranquil, often expressive and lyrical, and perhaps sometimes rather gloomy. No such tranquillity at the start here, as the music fairly zips along at a rate of knots for just under a minute, which could so easily have come from the pen of Felix Mendelssohn. There is then a complete change of tempo, F major takes over from F minor, and suddenly we might be listening to a nocturne by Irishman John Field. This too, passes through F minor, before returning to the major and the close of this true ‘nocturne’ section. The rapid opening then returns and now, there is a real sense of the Italian tarantella in Baermann’s writing. The tempo relaxes for another short visit to the tonic major key before F minor comes back to whisk the listener straight to the exciting conclusion, without further ado. Perhaps not the kind of Notturno I was expecting, but in practice, the designation ‘Nocturne’ has often conveyed a variety of moods, as witness Fêtes from Debussy’s orchestral Nocturnes. In Baermann’s example it was more an opportunity to display as much of the clarinet’s capabilities as possible – warm, expressive tone in the slow section and brilliant virtuosity elsewhere – all of which was made the more exciting by having some very high notes thrown into the mix.

Next up is son, Carl, with his own composition and Lied, Verlorenes Glück (Lost Happiness). Clearly inspired by Schubert’s methods, this unassuming little melody, with its contrasting middle section, suits the clarinet as perfectly as the human voice. Baermann makes telling use of the instrument’s singing qualities throughout its different registers.

Heinrich follows up with another virtuoso vehicle, the Introduktion und Polonaise, which could so easily have come from Carl Maria von Weber’s output. A dramatic, almost-improvised opening, first in the minor key and then moving back into the major key a couple of times, leads into the appearance of a suave melody in the major, which soon shifts into triple time, from where the Polonaise section takes over. This does everything you’d expect it to and again, it could so easily be by Weber, or one of his clarinet-writing contemporaries. A short cadenza briefly interrupts the flow, but the Polonaise quickly resumes and the end is soon in sight.

By way of a complete contrast, 6 Lieder by Schubert – transcribed for clarinet and piano by son, Carl – open with Der Neugierige (The Curious One), from the song-cycle Die Schöne Müllerin. Baermann’s transcription is simply that – he has added nothing and relies on the clarinet’s ability to mimic the voice, which is of course helped by slightly transposing the key of Schubert’s original. The next five transcriptions follow suit: Wohin? (Where to?), also from Die Schöne Müllerin, Ave Maria, Lob der Tränen, (In Praise of Tears), Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), and Ständchen, D 889 (Serenade). Here is a real tribute to the expressive, extremely sensitive playing from Zingales, as he virtually recreates each poet’s original conception, but ‘without words’, and where the equally-sympathetic piano accompaniment from Romanian-born Florian Podgoreanu makes such a telling contribution too.

Next is Heinrich’s final inclusion in the present CD, his Air Varié, Op 12 No 2. This opens with the customary short, slow, and stately introduction to the agreeable little tune that will form the basis of this set of variations. There are two quick ones to start with and then an extended third, which is in a much slower tempo. Just as this comes to its quiet close, you are naturally expecting some final pyrotechnics and a tour de force ending, where Baermann will throw just about everything he can at the instrument. But it’s not to be. And just as Looney Tunes cartoon-character, Bosko, would have said: ‘That’s all folks’.

However, there’s still more to come on the CD. First, another own-composed Lied, Die kleine Bettlerin (The Little Beggar-Girl) by Carl. This is a plaintive little melody with the feel of a strophic song, which mixes a folklike conversational-style start in the minor key, with more declamatory sections that recall the style of Mendelssohn and perhaps Schumann. This appealing little number closes in the major, perhaps suggesting that the little beggar’s day has been reasonably remunerative after all.

Carl’s Fantasie Brillante, the longest single work on the CD, then rounds off proceedings. There is the usual imposing start – in the minor key – where some quite interesting harmonic juxtapositions ensue. The piano part is almost on an orchestral scale, with its quite frequent use of tremolando in the left hand, and octave-writing for both. This leads to a waltz-like theme in the minor that exhibits an almost Italianate feel, particularly in the piano’s closing bars, and which is considerably enhanced by the harmonic use of the Neapolitan 6th – flattening the second note of the minor scale, for example, in A minor, B becomes B flat, which then provides the opportunity for greater melodic poignancy. Each variation increases in intensity and, correspondingly, the technical demands on both players. Eventually Baermann cranks things up a further gear when he shifts into an Allegretto in compound time signature (6/8), and where the ghost of Weber probably looms largest in the whole piece.

In terms of the Baermanns and the art of composing, it’s probably fair to say that, in father Heinrich’s case, he will more likely be remembered not so much for his own output but rather for his great influence on other eminently more-gifted composers like Mendelssohn and Weber, and what they subsequently brought to the clarinet’s repertoire. However, given the evidence on this highly-enjoyable CD, son Carl appears better qualified to write a piece that is both a vehicle for virtuoso display and technique of the highest order, while also exhibiting considerably greater musical content as well – rather like a meringue where, in his case, there is something substantial inside too.

The playing from both artists, especially Zingales, is first-rate throughout, and the sound has been most faithfully recorded. The CD isn’t going to set the world alight. You might want to skip through the Schubert song-transcriptions but, especially if you’re a clarinettist, the chance to acquire six first-recordings on a disc that is so very entertaining, must surely equate to a win-win scenario.

Philip R Buttall



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