CRUSELL Clarinet Quartets Opp2, 4 & 7
The concertos of the Finnish-Swedish clarinettist Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775 1838) come around fairly often; less so his chamber works. These three quartets come from the first 20 or so years of the 19th century and so sit roughly between the sound worlds of Mozart and Brahms, two composers who were themselves, of course, inspired by local clarinet virtuosos to create a handful of masterpieces.
There’s certainly a faintly proto-Brahmsian air to the hymn-like opening of Op 7 in D, which then relaxes into something more playful; and there’s something of the German Romantic hunt in the same work’s finale. Mozart is the guiding spirit in the more pastoral Op 2 in E flat, especially in the rapt slow movement. And perhaps Haydn’s example has a hand in the Sturm und Drang of the C minor Quartet, Op 4. Eric Hoeprich uses replicas of the 10 key Grenser clarinets that Crusell favoured; an instrument in A for Op 7 and the more normal B flat model for the other two works. Wider tone holes add to the instruments’ colouristic range, whether in the cantabile lines of the slow movements, the athletics of the allegros or that wonderful gurgling accompanimental sound that so suits the clarinet.
You hear some key action and occasionally catch the slight awkwardness of the cross-fingerings necessary on the pre-Böhm system, which only adds to the fun. Three-quarters of the gut-string London Haydn Quartet warm their sound with the merest hints of vibrato although, as so often, their instruments are not described in the documentation. Nevertheless, entirely enjoyable.