Weber: Clarinet Concertos & Quintet

Martin Fröst

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Weber: Clarinet Concertos & Quintet Review

by James Manheim

The billing of moderately well-known Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst in last-name-only large type, above that of composer Carl Maria von Weber, may seem a bit presumptuous, but Fröst delivers what he presumes. This is a superb recording of Weber's clarinet music, which is attractive for its mixture of an extreme virtuoso language with Germanic formal logic. Weber wrote all of the music here for a star clarinetist, and, listening to the opening movement of the Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 75, especially, it is hard to imagine that he did not have the feats of Paganini in his head. Yet everything is fitted, smoothly and inventively, into the logic of sonata form. Leaping cadenzas, for instance, may serve as transitions between thematic areas. Plenty of clarinetists have tackled these fearsome works, but few have understood this duality as well as Fröst -- and then combined that understanding with an awe-inspiring fluidity of sound across the entire range of the clarinet. In the central movements of the two concertos, and in the long, sober introduction to the single-movement Concertino in E flat major, Weber scales back the decorative writing in favor of long, Beethovenian cantibile lines, and here Fröst shows an impressive ability to extend an utterance over the musical long term. Jean-Jacques Kantorow and the Tapiola Sinfonietta complete a near-perfect picture of Weber's clarinet music. If you are looking at the cover and wondering how a quintet can be played by a sinfonietta, the answer is that Kantorow has arranged this other major Weber clarinet work for orchestra. Some of the more intricate chamber-music logic of this work is lost in the arrangement, but it still makes sense to put all of Weber's clarinet music, which stands apart from the rest of his output, together on one disc -- a disc that may well be around for decades. Taken together with BIS' release of Iberian and French flute music by Israeli flutist Sharon Bezaly, this disc suggests that the label is revitalizing the tradition of the virtuoso soloist in innovative ways, with very exciting young players pursuing repertory that, if not exactly obscure, has lost its zing. Impressively transparent Super Audio sound is part of the overall success of the enterprise (this CD was auditioned on a good conventional system).

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