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Carl STAMITZ (1745-1801)
Clarinet Concerto No. 4 in B flat [18:25]
Clarinet Concerto No. 5 in B flat [16:44]
Clarinet Concerto No. 3 in B flat [15:35]
Paul Meyer (clarinet)
Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester/Johannes Schlaefli
rec. 2016, Epiphaniaskirche, Mannheim, Germany
CPO 555 053-2 [50:54]

Decades ago, when my Romantic-trained ears weren't yet attuned to the Classical period, I encountered the wrong recording of a Carl Stamitz sinfonia concertante - on Columbia Records, on the flip side of the Mozart, should you care to trace it. I heard precious little colour - probably the conductor's fault - and was bored silly. I've not willingly spent time with Stamitz -- with either of the Stamitzes - since. If that's also been your attitude, be prepared: Paul Meyer's vivacious performances here may well provoke a 180-degree turnaround.

First of all, these melodious, well-wrought concerti are almost on a par with Mozart's familiar score. Stamitz even supplies the occasional imaginative formal touch: the finale of the Fourth Concerto, for example, is a minuet, with both the soloist and the orchestral violins adding embellishments and even syncopations as it proceeds.
In the fluent, idiomatic clarinet writing, Meyer sounds quite taken - and justifiably so - with his own virtuosity. Seemingly carefree, he tootles along - in thirds, in arpeggios, in straight scales, you name it - unfolding ribbons of suave sound. His spirited dashes through the runs and curlicues, in fact, occasionally lead the orchestra on a merry chase to keep up! The playing isn't only about speed and virtuosity, however: Meyer inflects sensitively even when the notes are flying by, always providing a sure sense of direction. And the slow movements sing straightforwardly.

I was only slightly disappointed by the two-octave dips into the chalumeau range, a device Stamitz uses rather less than did Mozart. You do hear a register shift, but not into the expected dark, velvety tone. Perhaps this is a trait of the Buffet Crampon clarinet that Meyer plays.

Johannes Schlaefli's conducting is fleet, airborne rather than driven, even in the bracing finale of No.3. The textures are open and clear. The orchestra is bright-toned and responsive; some reviews have carped at perceived bits of approximate ensemble, but I didn't hear them.

Neither the booklet nor the Internet seems able to provide the dates of composition, which is why I've omitted them from the headnote. (Grove's might have helped, but, amid the pandemic, I haven't been able to visit a library to consult it.) Annotator Lorenz Adamer, however, assumes that the Fourth Concerto reached its present form before 1781.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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