Crusell & Weber Clarinet Concertos
Always up to date in my reading, I had reached last week an article in the American High Fidelity for January 1958, in which Roland Gelatt was wondering whether the repertoire explosion after 10 years of LP was always quite as advantageous as it seemed. Earlier, a 78rpm side of Francois Couperin played on the harpsichord had been a treasure trove; apart from the fun of finding it, was not getting to know it well more informative, as well as more enjoyable, than buying a complete edition of Couperin on 17 LPs that there was never time to play, let alone get to know?
This may indeed be so, today no less than 25 years ago. The thought is prompted by consideration of Crusell. He was altogether unknown to 78s; this was obviously overdoing the scarcity value! But perhaps, today, might there not be advantage in something in between that and a sudden deluge of Crusell's three clarinet quartets (Hyperion A66077, 8/83) and three clarinet concertos, these for starters?
This may indeed be overdoing it in the other direction; but none the less it is difficult to raise much objection to the making available of these six splendid works. The present Second Concerto completes the set (Nos. 1 and 3 are available on Hyperion A66055, 1/83) and completes it very satisfactorily. Thea King plays it most beautifully, and a first-class recording keeps her and the orchestra in ideal balance. Even if it were not the only available recorded version of the work it is difficult to think it could not help but be the best.
The same quality of performance and recording is evident in the Weber; I particularly liked the rather gentle reading of the polacca finale, taming somewhat the brashness of Weber here (for that matter, in a lot of elsewhere, too!). But in the case of this Weber concerto there are of course other good versions to be considered.
Of them Janet Hilton's Chandos disc is a very strong competitor indeed. She stresses the forcefulness of Weber's music rather more than Thea King, without at all neglecting its poetry. The orchestral playing, too, stresses, this forceful element, and the resulting sound is given a suitably strong recording. Add that the well-filled record contains also Weber's First Clarinet Concerto, and his Clarinet Concertino, and this must be seen to be among the best records of the composer. It would be difficult indeed to suggest that choice between Hilton and King could be safely exercised either way save by reference to individual preference as far as the contents of the two discs are concerned.
On the Oiseau-Lyre record, de Peyer of course also plays beautifully; but his tone is ill recorded, and so is that of the orchestra. The Weber concerto is backed by the first, C minor Concerto of Spohr, a beautiful piece it is very easy indeed to prefer to the one under primary discussion. Even so, this rather older record could not today be considered a serious competitor with either of the other two.'