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Krommer, Spohr: Clarinet Concertos / Bliss, Meyer


Release Date: 07/17/2007 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 79786   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Louis SpohrFranz Krommer
Performer:  Julian BlissSabine Meyer
Conductor:  Kenneth Sillito
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SPOHR Clarinet Concertos: No. 4 in e; 1 No. 2 in E?. 2 KROMMER Concerto in E? for Two Clarinets, op. 91 Sabine Meyer (cl); 1 Julian Bliss (cl); 2 Kenneth Sillito, cond; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields EMI 79786 2 (72: 42)

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One of my college professors, a former student of the eminent musicologist Gustave Reese, used to cite one of Reese’s favorite expressions: “Everything is getting worse.” Sadly, I have used this remark all too often myself; but there are, fortunately, certain realms in which the opposite is true—as, for example, with cars, computers, and clarinetists.


A case in point is Sabine Meyer: still very much in her prime, she has reached the point in her career where not only is she routinely recording repertoire that a mere generation ago would have been considered daringly esoteric—and doing so for a major label at that—but also is able to use a disc such as the present one to introduce a star protégé to a broad, worldwide audience.


Louis Spohr’s four clarinet concertos seem to be creeping inward from the fringes of the repertoire. Until the end of the LP era, recordings of them were uncommon and unreliable in quality; even though Gervase de Peyer’s c. 1960 version of the First was something of a breakthrough, it has been thoroughly superseded by more recent versions. (Here I must correct one aspect of an otherwise useful observation by Jerry Dubins in his review of a disc of Brahms’s clarinet music in the July/August issue: de Peyer, despite his name, is not of the “French” school of clarinet-playing, which features a smallish, well-focused sound and often a rapid vibrato—a good example is Jacques Lancelot—but rather an English clarinetist through-and-through, perhaps exhibiting more of Reginald Kell’s influence—though less of his subtlety and refinement—than any of his peers.) Clarinetists avoided these works for a reason: they are fiendishly difficult; not standard virtuoso–difficult, but awkward–difficult. A virtuoso violinist, Spohr wrote clarinet parts that were as technically challenging as those of his solo violin music, and equally idiomatic—for the violin, that is! A 1979 Argo LP of Nos. 1 and 2 by Anthony Pay, unfortunately never reissued nor followed by a companion recording of Nos. 3 and 4, set a new standard for the performance of these works, a standard met or exceeded by Karl Leister’s 1983 complete set, which is still available on Orfeo.


Now come two new generations of clarinetists, doing what in 1983 was inconceivable: playing this music more flawlessly, more effortlessly, and more stylishly even than the magisterial Leister. A year ago we had an outstanding recording of No. 4 by Sharon Kam (see Fanfare 30:1); now Meyer, who briefly succeeded Leister as principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic, gives us an even more polished version. Interestingly, Meyer chooses the less brilliant of the two concertos, that in E Minor. Her tempos are almost identical to Kam’s, her playing if anything even more effortless. She betrays none of the unpleasant “edge” that not long ago was typical of much German clarinet-playing—that of Dieter Klöcker or Jost Michaels, for example—and displays consummate tone control and perfect technique throughout. Where Leister applies a fairly heavy layer of Karajan-era legato to most phrases, Meyer shows more flexibility in shaping the solo part. This performance rises to the very top.


EMI fails to tell us anything whatever about Julian Bliss, but a little Web-based research reveals him to be Meyer’s 17-year-old student. He plays the flashier E?-Major Concerto, and like his mentor displays a pure sound, flawless technique, impressive breath control, and perfect intonation throughout; in some of the nastiest passages, he is even a bit cleaner than the revered Leister. Direct comparison with Pay’s LP version shows the latter to be perhaps a bit more subtle, with a somewhat greater dynamic range, but there really is nothing to fault in the present performance, irrespective of the soloist’s tender age. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from Bliss soon, and I’m looking forward to it.


Franz Krommer seems to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance, judging from the number of reviews of his works in recent issues of Fanfare . The present concerto is the second of his two for two clarinets, both in E?; here teacher and student ideally complement each other, their tones matching precisely, their articulations exactly in synch, and their octave passages uncannily perfect. The main competition for this work is from Meyer herself, in a 1988 recording with her brother Wolfgang, also on EMI; that disc includes Krommer’s other two-clarinet concerto, op. 35, but can’t match the brilliance of this new version, which also benefits from smoother recorded sound. Another fine version of both concertos, by Walter and Anne Boeykens on Harmonia Mundi, is no longer available.


By unilateral action, the “Gripe-of-the-month Club” has been renamed the “Keep Them-Honest Department.” Let it accordingly be noted here that in addition to telling us nothing about the artists, EMI fails to identify anywhere on the outside packaging which of the Krommer concertos is played on the disc therein.


For now, the best bet for both Spohr and Krommer is to mix-and-match; whatever combination you choose, though, it should certainly include this superb new disc.


FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Clarinet no 2 in E flat major, Op. 57 by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Julian Bliss (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Kenneth Sillito
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1810; Gotha, Germany 
Date of Recording: 09/2006 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Length: 24 Minutes 24 Secs. 
2.
Concerto for Clarinet no 4 in E minor, WoO 20 by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Sabine Meyer (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Kenneth Sillito
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Kassel, Germany 
Date of Recording: 09/2006 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Length: 24 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Gerhard Ewald Rischka. 
3.
Concerto for 2 Clarinets in E flat major, Op. 91 by Franz Krommer
Performer:  Sabine Meyer (Clarinet), Julian Bliss (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Kenneth Sillito
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Classical 
Written: 1815; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: 09/2006 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Length: 23 Minutes 41 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Concerto for two clarinets in Eb Op.91: Allegro
Concerto for two clarinets in Eb Op.91: Adagio
Concerto for two clarinets in Eb Op.91: Alla Polacca
Concerto No.4 in E Minor, woo20: Allegro Vivace
Concerto No.4 in E Minor, woo20: Larghetto
Concerto No.4 in E Minor, woo20: Rondo al Espagnol
Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Op.57: Allegro
Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Op.57: Adagio
Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Op.57: Rondo - Alla Polacca

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