Classical CD Reviews

Von WEBER: Clarinet Concerto No.1 in F minor; Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major; Concertino for Clarinet and Orch. – Alexander Fiterstein, clar./San Francisco Ballet Orch./Martin West – Bridge

These are excellent performances that should not get lost in the plethora.

Published on December 6, 2013

CARL MARIA von WEBER: Clarinet Concerto No.1 in F minor; Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major; Concertino for Clarinet and Orch. – Alexander Fiterstein, clar./San Francisco Ballet Orch./Martin West – Bridge 9416, 53:55 (2013) [Distr. by Albany] ***1/2:

For serious clarinet students and the performing professional, all three of these solo works with orchestra by Weber are on the absolutely “must know” list. For many players, the Concertino is one of the first serious clarinet showpieces one must master for its dramatic and showy traits but also for its relatively facile requirements. In fact, for most teachers and players I know the Concertino and the Concerto No.1 are on the absolute short list with the Mozart Concerto and the Brahms Sonatas. The second Concerto is a more demanding affair for both the soloist and the orchestra and is not as often played but is still one of the clarinetist’s must-dos.

Weber wrote, actually, a lot of truly wonderful clarinet music, including some absolutely lush and attention getting solos in his operas, such as Der Freischütz or Oberon. There are also other solo works that vary from nearly obscure (like his Introduction, Theme and Variations) to the fairy well-known (The Quintet for clarinet and string quartet and the Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano being prime examples) These works, as well as the ‘big three’ present, were all written for the early nineteenth century clarinet virtuoso and pedagogue Heinrich Joseph Baermann. Their collaboration and friendship was met well by King Maximilian I of Bavaria, in whose court many of these wonderful works was premiered.

Now, because these works are absolute masterpieces and ‘war horses’ of the clarinet repertory, many, many clarinetists have recorded these over the years and with some of the world’s biggest and best-known orchestras. I am a huge fan of the old Gervase DePeyer recordings with the London Philharmonia as well as of the Karl Leister and Berlin set. In fact, there are over seventy extant recordings of just the first Concerto, right now, not to mention the many that are out of production. So do we need a new relatively unknown clarinetist and a relatively unknown orchestra to add to the pile? In this case; absolutely yes, and please do not overlook this recording.

Alexander Fiterstein is a very fine Belarus-born young clarinetist who, after winning the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, has made a name for himself almost exclusively as a soloist. I have heard him but twice before; in Naxos recordings of music by Ronn Yedidia as well as his premiere recording of the terrific but tricky Sean Hickey Concerto. He is an artist with a smooth focused tone and very fine technique. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under Martin West provides tasteful and skilled accompaniment. This a great performance all around and most certainly deserves to be in the mix when young clarinetists are searching for a performance to emulate!

—Daniel Coombs




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