Michael Collins / Stephen Stirling

Weber: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Clarinet Concertino; Horn Concertino

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Carl Maria von Weber's two clarinet concertos, and the less familiar but delightful Concertino for clarinet and orchestra in E flat major, Op. 26, have reached the pinnacle of the literature for clarinet and orchestra. They have an attractive balance between solo virtuosity and complex Beethovenian structures, requiring a rare level of coordination among soloist, orchestra, and conductor. In this case, soloist and conductor are one and the same, a situation that seems ideal for these works but is difficult to pull off and not terribly often attempted. The execution here by British clarinetist Michael Collins and the London Sinfonietta is superb. There are clarinetists more technically gifted than Collins, but few who could find their way through the interaction of clarinet and orchestra in the harmonic byways of the first movement of the Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 74. Even if the clarinet's brutal high E flat interest at the beginning of the solo part is a bit squawked, it still works; the note is meant to be at the edge of playability. Collins also gets the operatic quality of the Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, and in the sparkling finale of the brief Concertino in C minor for clarinet and orchestra, Op. 26, he's an absolute virtuoso joy. The Concertino for horn and orchestra in E minor, Op. 45, is not a work on the same level and Chandos' church sound is nothing special, but this nevertheleless deserves a place in the top rank of readings of these repertory works.

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