Sharon Kam / Gregor Bühl / Ori Kam / Sinfonia Varsovia

The Romantic Clarinet

(CD - Berlin Classics #0016202)

Review by

The clarinet made its bow in the eighteenth century and was the immediate beneficiary of Mozart's attention, but the instrument came into its own in the nineteenth century. Inasmuch as major clarinet literature from the nineteenth century is concerned, works of Carl Maria von Weber dominate the field, but there was more to it than that, and clarinet virtuoso Sharon Kam helps widen the perspective in her Berlin Classics effort The Romantic Clarinet. She starts out with a concerto -- and what a concerto -- by Julius Rietz, a close contemporary of Felix Mendelssohn. It is a superb work; stormy, intense, and involving and probably is to the clarinet what the E minor violin concerto of Mendelssohn is to the violin. On Max Bruch's Concerto for clarinet, viola, and orchestra in E minor, Op. 88 (1911), Kam is joined her brother, violist Ori Kam. To be fair, the work is perhaps friendlier to the viola than it is to the clarinet; much of the time the clarinet holds down the fort while the viola goes gallivanting about. With the Weber Quintet in B flat, Op. 34, we are entering more familiar territory, but it is heard in the arrangement for clarinet and string orchestra, recorded with some frequency, but not nearly as often as the chamber version. In this piece, the Sinfonia Varsovia plays a stronger and more assertive role than in the others, which is definitely a plus for the music.

Sharon Kam's tone is even, controlled, and cool, though it is appropriately explosive in the few passages where such effects are called for; she effortlessly leaps around registers, and her passagework is clean and light as a feather. The Sinfonia Varsovia is led by Gregor Bühl who, overall, contributes a sensitive and well-balanced accompaniment that never overpowers the soloist and provides support where it is needed. Berlin Classics' recording is clear and attractively resonant, though there is some transience in the signal during loud passages where the clarinet register is bright and silvery.

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