Eduard Brunner

Krommer: Clarinet Quintet; Clarinet Quartet; 13 Pieces, Op. 47

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Switzerland's Tudor label has committed to disc a good deal of the chamber music of the prolific composer Franz Krommer (aka, Frantisek Kramár), who was active and esteemed in the Vienna of Beethoven's day but forgotten after subjective individual experience became the name of the game in the music of the nineteenth century. If you're confused by the various Krommer discs on the market and want to try one out, this group of clarinet chamber pieces makes a good one to pick. Krommer fused Haydn's humor (and the folk-ish quality of some of his musical materials) with Mozartian elegance, and he developed the mix in intriguing ways over the course of his career: he both boiled Classical structures down to their essentials and expanded the harmonic innovations of the elderly Haydn into new realms (he never sounds much like Beethoven). This disc offers examples of both trends. The 13 Pieces for two clarinets and viola, Op. 47, composed in 1804, are unique -- short, mostly tripartite structures that reduce Classical relationships among rhythm, thematic material, and form to minimal but distinctive combinations. Sample the Rondo (track 12), an ABCDA shape in which the music retains elements of the opening motive but lets it fade away and then gradually return -- all over the course of a minute and 29 seconds. The Quintet in B flat major for clarinet and strings, Op. 95, is surely a later work (although the date is not precisely known), and the outer movements offer consistently surprising ways of integrating third relationships and other features of Romantic harmony into Classical frameworks. Hear also the spectacular passage about five minutes into the opening movement, where the clarinet swirls around the strings in an intense developmental treatment of a single motive -- it's as formally unusual as anything in Beethoven, minus the emotion. The third work on the disc is another clarinet quintet that's less adventurous but never less than pleasant and well made. Veteran German clarinetist Eduard Brunner and the multinational Amati Quartet offer thorough competence, which is exactly what the music requires, and the result, for everyone from wind players to those seeking relaxing sounds for the commute home, is a delightful program.

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