Spohr: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, Potpourri in F major, and Variations in B flat major
Louis (Ludwig) Spohr (1784-1859) was a German composer, violinist, conductor, teacher and organizer that exerted a profound influence on the development of nineteenth century music, that being the start of the Romanticism period. A forgotten master who wrote some impressive orchestral and chamber music that, in his day, was considered on par with both Mozart and Beethoven. Spohr wrote in all genres and had an impressive prolific output, including 150 works with Opus numbers and almost as many without. Nine symphonies, during 1803-1804 he wrote more violin concertos than any other composer 18 in all, chamber music no fewer than 36 string quartets and 4 double quartets for 2 string quartets, duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, octets and a nonet, solos for violin, and for harp his wife's favorite instrument. Opera, songs, corals and mass are part of Spohr's output along with cantatas and concertos. Spohr wrote 15 violin concertos and 10 works for the clarinet.
Inspired by a meeting in Gotha in 1808 with the virtuoso clarinetist Johann Simon Hermstedt (1778-1846) and for the next 26 years Spohr would write some excellent music for the clarinet repertoire. In the course of two years Spohr would write four concertos for Hermstedt. Just as Mozart had Anton Stadler, von Weber and Mendelssohn had Heinrich Baermann, but von Weber did write his Grand Duo Concertant with Hermstedt in mind, and Brahms had Richard Muhlfeld, the relationship between Spohr and Hermstedt strengthened and, again, the clarinet virtuoso inspired these composers to produce some of their finest works. The earliest clarinet concerto was written in 1733 by Giuseppi Antonio Paganelli (1710-1783) titled, "Concerto per Clareto." Spohr was 24 and was an experienced composer in the concerto form mostly for the violin but the harp as well. The classical mould for a concerto is a fast movement, slow middle movement, and then a fast third movement, but Spohr does something different for his first clarinet concerto.
The first track on this CD is the Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in C minor Op.26 (1808) which opens slowly and contains the main melody of the first movement, secondly the Allegro begins with the soloist entering after eight bars, this is different than what Mozart or Beethoven would have done, with their long openings. Spohr wrote this concerto with a development in the second phase that has a contrasting, new lyrical theme appearing, from the initial core of the opening, and in the third phase the music fades. So in effect you start with an Adagio-Allegro going back to the Adagio and finishing with a Rondo that has a devilish humor that plays well with the orchestra involving the wind section, but the expected impending pyrotechnics is not written, instead a more serious mood with a gentleness that is romantic and recalls the Adagio has been substituted, thus making for an interesting entwining piece of music. Michael Collins is the clarinetist does a wonderful job capturing these moods written for the clarinet. The richness of the clarinet is embodied in this music, with a true tonal mystery. I enjoyed this piece immensely.
The second track is a Potpourri in F major Op.80 (1811) on themes from Winter's opera Das unterbrochene Opferfest. This music has interesting melodies and Michael Collins does well with this music involving all three registers of the clarinet, we hear octave leaps and semi-quavers making for a frolicking tune.
The third track is the Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major Op. 57 (1810) were Spohr follows a more traditional path to his approach and there is a full scale opening, with a sly cameo of the solo clarinet inserted. This is a more festive piece of music, a march rhythm is predominant with trumpets and drums giving it a certain panache. Spohr does, again, what he did in his first clarinet concerto, a contrasting romantic lyrical theme enters with festive pomp as the music develops. The Adagio takes full advantage of the chalumeau register and Michael Collins delivers a rich fruity, full-bodied timbre with a touch of plaintive mystery. There are some dramatic runs and leaps in this music showing the strength with controlled pyrotechnics of a dynamic clarinet. The Rondo opens with a timpani and horns, but the clarinet soon takes the music over and this is where you hear the artistry and showmanship of Michael Collins. Spohr writes an upper register that ascends to the stratosphere for the clarinet, again, showing the full potential of the instrument to "C" altissimo. This takes a very good clarinet and performer to carry this off and we are not disappointed. I loved the character of this music and Michael Collins was in perfect form to take this music head on and deliver on the gymnastic nature of this music with imaginativeness, phrasing, and tonal richness only a few have.
The fourth track is Variations in B flat major WoO15 (1809) on the duet "Euer Liebreiz, eure Schonheit" from Spohr's opera Alruna is lyrical piece as the clarinet tip-toes through the opening like skipping down a path, playful, alluring, and inquisitive looking for something or someone. The music matures and we hear the full breath of the clarinet and at the ending a joyfulness erupts as if "eureka" what we were looking for in the opening has been a happiness.
Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 26 (1808)----- 19:59
1. Adagio-Allegro 10:39
2. Adagio 3:20
3. Rondo: Vivace 5:53
Potpourri in F major Op. 80 (1811)------ 9:47
- on themes from Winter's opera "Das unterbrochene Opferfest"
Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major Op. 57 (1810)----- 24:36
1. Allegro 11:22
2. Adagio 5:36
3. Rondo: Alla Polacca 7:27
Variations in B flat major WoO15 (1809)----- 7:41
- on the duet "Euer Liebreiz, eure Schonheit" from Spohr's opera Alruna
Total time, CD: 62:22
Michael Collins, Clarinet - Yamaha CSG Custom, B-40 mouth piece, 13 Series Vandoren reeds, with a Bay Ligature
Robin O'Neill, Conductor
The Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Urban Svensson leader
Michael Collins is a British clarinetist with a wonderful tonal color, ripe, rich, rounded full-bodied, fluent and lyrical to the clarinet timbre. He makes this music sound fresh, adding a uniqueness, to a difficult score. You will enjoy hearing him play a wonderful clarinet with a real finesse that attains the greatest possible naturalness and vividness, that few can master. Michael Collins exhibits a mastery of the clarinet, no wonder he is in great demand in England.
This is a Hyperion Records Limited London, England recording with a SPARS code: DDD, made and imported from the EU. This recording is of very high quality. Recorded in Orebro Konserthuset, Orebro, Sweden on May 24-28, 2004 and has excellent tonal color, full spatial separation, depth gradation and dynamics. The artist interpretation is excellent. This recording is an excellent addition to an audiophile collection. I would recommend this recording for your listening pleasure, if you have a Blu-ray player with good A/V equipment you'll experience a wonderful aural feast as this recording delivers a solid 5 stars.