Classical CD Reviews
KROMMER: Concerto for Two Clarinets; SPOHR: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 2 & 4 – Sabine Meyer & Julian Bliss, clarinets/ Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/ Kenneth Sillito – EMI
Published on October 20, 2007
Apparently EMI has now signed virtuoso wunderkind Julian Bliss to their mainline artists roster. Bliss, an English native who took an Artists Diploma at Indiana University in Bloomington (because he wasn’t old enough to attend school there), went on to win a concerto competition in Philadelphia, and is a student of the amazing Sabine Meyer, for my money probably the best clarinetist in the entire world. Meyer has been good enough to share this recital with her student, the latter’s second disc for the company.
And what a fine disc this is! For those who think that an hour of clarinet concertos by two somewhat-known composers promises to be bland and nondescript, think again. Louis Spohr (1784-1859) was one of the most popular of the early romantics, and his four concertos for the instrument remain among the most important ever written, even now. Though the music does have the unmistakable smell of the parlor about it, in the form of marches, dances, and such, we must not forget that this era was one where the bridge from classical sensibilities to romantic strife had not been fully completed. Spohr, unlike what the later romantics would deal with, disliked cadenzas and other merely “display” devices, even though these are concertos. Good taste and musicality are the order of the day in every measure. Both of these pieces are brilliantly successful and highly interesting works that provide much pleasure.
Franz Krommer (1759-1831) may have actually met Spohr at one time in Vienna around 1812. The Moravian Krommer, though almost completely self-taught, had a very lucrative career as imperial concertmaster and composer in residence from 1818 until his death. He is known today primarily for his many harmonie works and concertos for wind instruments. This double concerto is a wonderful example of a composer with an intrinsic feel for the idiom providing a substantive and melodically rich work that comes off as a serious effort of composition and not just a display or novelty piece.
Meyer and Bliss both share the Krommer, of course, with Meyer taking the last Spohr and Bliss dabbling in No. 2. All performances here are as good as you will ever hear, and I am happy that EMI is still recording offbeat and worthy pieces like these. At least a few of the majors appear to maintain loyalty to their great artists and are still cultivating new ones without dropping them as soon as the opening salvos have been fired. The ASMF under director Sillito plays like we have come to expect after all these years, with EMI’s Abbey Road Studio One still sounding stupendous. Don’t hesitate.
– Steven Ritter