Janet Hilton

Weber: Complete Works for Clarinet

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A number of recordings of Weber's virtuoso clarinet music have come on the market since these 1980s Chandos recordings were released, but they have held their own well enough to merit reissue on the label's two-for-one budget line. They are, perhaps, quintessentially English despite the Finnish origin of the conductor in the orchestral works: straightforward, technically assured, warm in the orchestral sound (recorded mostly at Birmingham's Town Hall), and never drawing attention to itself or letting anyone see or hear anyone sweat. Weber's two big concertos, heard on disc 1, are masterful in the way they integrate extreme virtuosity into Beethovenian sonata-form models, with flashy cadenzas, for example, serving the structural function of transition between thematic groups. Clarinetist Janet Hilton proceeds smoothly through the most extraordinary feats of technical agility and sheer endurance, treating Weber's structures matter-of-factly where some performers (sample the recording on BIS by Sweden's Martin Fröst and the Tapiola Sinfonietta under Jean-Jacques Kantorow) generate a good deal more dramatic tension. Her slow movements, where Weber writes long Beethovenian lines rather than heavily ornamented instrumental arias, are impressively controlled even if the Birmingham ensemble is not always as silken as one would wish. The shorter, less structurally ambitious works on disc 2 are delightful; Hilton's essential restraint doesn't get in the way of their dancelike spirit. The remastering of the 1980s sound, as usual with Chandos, has been nicely done, and there is a strong sense of physical presence to these fine recordings, which represent a safe if not bold choice.

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