Spohr: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 3 and 4
Louis (Ludwig) Spohr (1784-1859) was a German composer, violinist, conductor, teacher and organizer that exerted a profound influence on the development of nineteenth century music, that being the start of the Romanticism period. A forgotten master who wrote some impressive orchestral and chamber music that, in his day, was considered on par with both Mozart and Beethoven. Spohr wrote in all genres and had an impressive prolific output, including 150 works with Opus numbers and almost as many without. Nine symphonies, during 1803-1804 he wrote more violin concertos than any other composer 18 in all, chamber music no fewer than 36 string quartets and 4 double quartets for 2 string quartets, duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, octets and a nonet, solos for violin, and for harp his wife's favorite instrument. Opera, songs, corals and mass are part of Spohr's output along with cantatas and concertos. Spohr wrote 15 violin concertos and 10 works for the clarinet.
Inspired by a meeting in Gotha in 1808 with the virtuoso clarinetist Johann Simon Hermstedt (1778-1846) and for the next 26 years Spohr would write some excellent music for the clarinet repertoire. In the course of two years Spohr would write four concertos for Hermstedt. Just as Mozart had Anton Stadler, von Weber and Mendelssohn had Heinrich Baermann, but von Weber did write his Grand Duo Concertant with Hermstedt in mind, and Brahms had Richard Muhlfeld, the relationship between Spohr and Hermstedt strengthened and, again, the clarinet virtuoso inspired these composers to produce some of their finest works. The earliest clarinet concerto was written in 1733 by Giuseppi Antonio Paganelli (1710-1783) titled, "Concerto per Clareto." Spohr was 24 and was an experienced composer in the concerto form mostly for the violin but the harp as well. The classical mould for a concerto is a fast movement, slow middle movement, and then a fast third movement, but Spohr does something different for his third clarinet concerto. On July 27, 1821 in Alexisbad at the premiere of the concert, mother nature decided to release a deluge and there was water everywhere. People were given food and the bed for the night, where the hay in the stables kept them comfortable and warm until they could leave later the next day, as the rain had made the Ganders area like an island and the people had to wait to go home. As things settled down from the storm, Spohr was disappointed that his music wasn't heard properly.
Spohr's third Clarinet Concerto in F minor WoO15(1821) is by far the most challenging for a good virtuoso of the four with a fiery, restless energy supporting grand sweeping themes of real distinction. The music best matches what we know of Hermstedt's musical personality: a staggering technique and a fearless disregard of even the most severe difficulties. Some contemporaries hinted that his playing lacked finesse but all acknowledged the sheer excitement that was generated upon his performances. So with all of this anticipation, what can we expect from the Clarinet Concerto in F minor WoO15, well Spohr does something completely different, again, where in the first movement as excitement builds the solo clarinet announces its presence with a long note in a crescendo from piano to forte. The orchestra carries on with the music with a brief passageway, but the clarinet comes back but with a reverse of the announcement with a forte down to a piano. Then the clarinet and orchestra banter back and forth, the clarinet does some register runs and some trill work and the orchestra fills and balances as we go through the opening. Hermstedt had an attitude of making the people wait for that which they came. And that was the bombastic, long awaited pyrotechnics coming from the clarinet with frills, trills, semi-quavers, register leaps, and octave play, so these come in the third movement.
The second movement the Adagio in D flat major has an eerie sounding echo of some of Mozart's concertos, but not exactly quoting them. They are similar in mood, tone and timbre, and you would think that you were listening to Mozart at a Spohr concert. This was the joke that was played on the virtuoso, Hermstedt, by the composer Spohr, as Spohr knew that Hermstedt loved these two pieces of Mozart's music very well so he changed them slightly... that was the joke.
The vivace non troppo has a distant Alpine flavor to the music, and that wasn't by accident. No, Spohr was listening to a man play a guitar with some of his home town music and that interested Spohr and he incorporated some of these melodic whispers when he was in Vienna, Switzerland. Hermstedt was given ample opportunity to put on display his ability for tonguing the reed and his staccato passage-work, plus the aforementioned keywork, technique and pyrotechnics. Michael Collins does a wonderful job controlling the rolling emotions in this concerto from Allegro moderato, to Adagio in D, then back to a Vivace non troppo F finale.
The next work on the CD is the Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E minor WoO20 sketched in January 1829 finished in June 21, 1829 is my favorite of the 4 concertos. But you have to remember all along Spohr was composing for the B flat clarinet and now the fourth concerto is written for the "A" clarinet. As the fourth concerto opens, we hear a sombre but romantic-sounding theme a Allegro vivace. Now, the contrasting theme is more like a second serene subject, but the music is very relaxing and easy to listen to, making you relax as the atmosphere from the orchestra concurs with brief outbursts, but melancholy is a reflective nature here.
The third section is the Rondo al espagnol. Here Spohr uses more of the Spanish flare for the music that he picked up from a guitar playing soldier, that Spohr let him play his native melodies as Spohr takes in the sound and incorporates this song in his sixth violin concerto, as well as hints a whisper into this concerto. Michael Collins does a very good job getting these concertos ready to be played and recorded.
There was a yeoman's job being done getting all these manuscripts together, because the third and fourth clarinet concertos had remained unpublished and unknown because of Hermstedt retaining possession of the manuscripts until his death in 1846. Finding the music pieces and bring them back from the archives is a slow process and getting someone with equal talent to play the instrument, then getting it ready for a recording is a long shot, indeed. As more of these "minor masters" works are coming out of the archives we will see that there was music other than Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven in this time period that this music compared well if not better than the master's works. Our tastes in music differ than those of those from the late 18th and early 19th century, but good music, whomever writes, it will live on.
The total time for this CD is: Duration 52:43
This is a Hyperion Records Ltd recording with a SPARS Code: DDD. Recorded in Orebro Konserthuset, Orebro, Sweden, June 1 - 3, 2006. Hyperion brings the audiophile music that isn't being or is seldom heard in the general music halls. With Hyperion and a few other labels, they are bringing high quality recording to the audiophile that exhibit natural acoustics of specially chosen concert halls. It goes without saying that this audiophile label refrains from and sort of sound-modifying manipulation with reverberation, sound filters, or limiters. I noticed precise depth gradation, original dynamics, and natural tone colors. If you have a Blu-ray playback you will notice a marked improvement in the sound quality. Please see my review for the Spohr Concertos No. 1 and 2 at: Amazon
You'll be very pleased at the quality of both CD's and the music is just heavenly. I can highly recommend this set of CD's with 5 stars each. Michael Collins repeats the success of his disc of Nos 1 and 2 with elegantly phrased melodies, immaculate passage work and wondrously even trills, with a remarkable tonal timbre of a highly refined clarinet in all three registers. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Robin O'Neill again provide alert support, and this makes this recording an outstanding addition to an audiophile collection. These are superior recordings