Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fantasy on Swedish National Melodies.
Septet in E?
Olof Boman, cond; Östgöta Blåsarsymfoniker
STERLING 1080 (55: 41)
Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775–1838), best known for his clarinet concertos that put him in the company of Spohr and von Weber (which is, when it comes to clarinet concertos, only one rung below top dog Mozart), knew a thing or two about wind instruments.
So much is again demonstrated by a new release of the rarity-happy Sterling label. The CD credits Crusell in bold letters, but contains just as much Beethoven, namely his (Beethoven’s) Septet in Crusell’s arrangement for wind instruments.
Why, just why did the Östgöta Blåsarsymfoniker under Olof Boman have to record this, even if it
—no surprise here—a world premiere recording? The George Leigh Mallory answer might be because it is there. Or perhaps because we are fast running out of worthy repertoire that doesn’t already exist in multiple versions? Or because so-called music-for-use—and that’s in a way what this arrangement is—no longer serves its original purpose, with musical media fast replacing the traditional way of spreading music around by performing it in whichever modified form to get an idea of what’s out there. All three points have merit, actually, but the suggestion that there is little inherent worth in these sorts of pieces being preserved on CD does not actually apply. At least not in this case. Why? Because Beethoven’s Septet in Crusell’s all-wind version sounds stupendous. It isn’t at all pushed into the oompah-band direction, nor does it become a dreary affair like those highly tedious Mozart opera arrangements for brass I encounter all too often. “Better” or “worse” are pointless categories here, comparing the arrangement to the original. But I have no compunction stating that I prefer this Crusellified version. It has something of the refined sonority of Mozart’s writing for wind in his late operas; it flows along very nicely so that its 42 minutes fly by in half the time. You needn’t be a clarinet lover to feel that way—though the writing for the E? and two B? clarinets is very smooth, indeed.
The filler on this disc, the
Fantasy on Swedish National Melodies
(for wind, with added percussion) is a much more immediate reminder that Crusell wrote this music specifically for his Linköping military band. I don’t know much about the battlefield capabilities of the early-19th-century Swedish armed forces, but boy, they sure could have dominated a battle of the bands. I’m tempted to write something about their top brass wielding a mean trumpet, for pun’s sake, before I admit that this
, its merits notwithstanding, is really just best considered the filler to the surprisingly delightful, blown-up “Septet.” My only problem with this disc is that I don’t know where to file it.
FANFARE: Jens F. Laurson
It was via the agency of the firm that was soon to be known as C.F. Peters that Crusell’s wind band version of Beethoven’s Septet Op.20 came to be published. He offered the firm two movements in 1822 and they accepted publishing the movements as separate parts - not a score, unusually - as the ‘Grand Serenade’ a few years later. It was no whim of Crusell’s, an illustrious clarinet player, as he was fully acquainted the work. His first performance of it may have been in 1805 and his last thirty years later. So familiarity was comprehensive and his version for wind instruments constructed with his usual facility and good taste. One might say that the wind arrangement brings out latent military cadences in the Septet. The slow movement is fluidly shaped and textured and Crusell brings some charm to the Minuetto. In this performance the Theme and variations forth movement is a serio-comic affair, nicely characterised and the Scherzo is spry. The portentous element of Beethoven’s writing is captured in the finale with its solo instrumental voices and well supported sonorities and chattering interplay.
If the Septet adaptation reveals one side of Crusell’s jobbing pragmatism the Fantasy on Swedish National Melodies gives us an avuncular chartering of his folkloric hikes. The time was propitious for national settings but was as yet something of a novelty in Sweden. Pioneer collectors of native melodies were collating their finds and the Gothic Society, dedicated to the ‘spirit of freedom and honesty’ had been active for some time. In fact Swedish folk song melodies had been published during the years 1814-18 so Crusell was sailing in newly chartered waters. It’s certainly a shock to hear percussion ringing out in the pomposo strains of the opening. There’s a rich, resounding quality to both music and performance that compels a smile; from rich ensemble to single clarinet curlicues all is genial and warm. Whether sinuously led by a flute, or by bardic horn, the work is a processional of textured tunes; plenty of allure, tempo doubling, and colour here.
As indicated the performances are buoyant and engaging and the recording first class. It’s a disc more for Crusell Completists than generalists; that much is obvious. But it broadens one’s appreciation of his compositional traits in the 1820s and 1830s.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Septet in E flat major, Op. 20 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Östgöta Wind Orchestra
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria
Notes: Arranger: Bernhard Henrik Crusell.
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