Thea King

Crusell: Clarinet Concertos

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While they are popular with clarinetists and some fans of early Romantic music, the three clarinet concertos by Bernhard Henrik Crusell have yet to achieve widespread acclaim outside this small circle of devotees. Conservative in style, predictable in form, and rather limited in expression, Crusell's extant concertos are engaging showpieces for virtuosos, with an agreeable blend of flashy techniques in the Allegros and pretty lyricism in the slow movements, but little more than that. Perhaps most comparable to the clarinet concertos by Weber and Spohr, these works are charming, bubbly, and occasionally exciting in the solo clarinet's displays; but Crusell was clearly averse to formal experimentation, emotionally constrained to stock Classical and Sturm und Drang mannerisms, and merely competent in his orchestration. Thea King, one of the world's leading masters of the clarinet, turns in supple and subtle performances, and carefully balances the instrument's bright, hard-edged timbres with its softer, more luminous tones in the chalumeau register. The London Symphony Orchestra, directed by Alun Francis, provides robust and energetic accompaniment, and everything sounds marvelous. So this disc is best enjoyed for its terrific performances, if not for musical originality or depth.

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