Emma Johnson plays Clarinet Concertos
The great quality that Emma Johnson brings to all her recordings, in contrast to so many artists of whatever eminence, is a devil-may-care spontaneity. It makes for winning results in all three of these concertos, a delightful group by composers all born around the middle of the eighteenth century.
All of Crusell's three clarinet concertos are relatively well-known, and I have listed Thea King's fine version of No. 1 for Hyperion as presenting the work with comparably winning spontaneity. If King is a degree more refined in her playing, John- son scores on sheer bouncing energy, the devil-may-care quality I refer to, and by that I don't mean to imply any lack of polish. In the first movement Johnson is a fraction faster, in the finale a fraction slower, but in both the extra relaxation conveys a degree more swagger, though that is not a quality at all lacking with King either. The slow movement is most beautifully done in both recordings, but King's shading of tone is if anything even more delicate.
In any case the ASV coupling is quite different. Both the other works, trivial but charming, are ideal vehicles for showing off the soloist's special gifts, her ability to 'magick' a phrase, a theme, a whole piece. The lolloping main theme of the finale of the Krommer for example on paper may seem impossibly banale, almost like a Victorian music-hall song, but Johnson makes it skip along deliciously, music to make you laugh. The central minor-key Adagio strikes a much darker note, with an aggressive fortissimo at the start leading to the soloist's melancholy melody.
Both in the Krommer and the even rarer Concerto in E flat by Leopold Kozeluch, Johnson has a rare ability to make even conventional passage-work sound interesting. Like Krommer, Kozeluch was born in what is now Czechoslovakia, younger cousin of the composer, Jan Antonin Kozeluch, who till now has been rather better known. The soloist reports in her own note that she came across this piece, first published as recently as 1975, when she visited Czechoslovakia in 1988, and rightly she commends the ''uncomplicated, natural flow of the melodies'', not specially distinctive but ripe for her brand of transformation.
She is very well accompanied in all three works by Gunther Herbig and the RPO, and the recording is atmospheric and refined, though the clarinet seems a little more recessed in the slow movement of the Kozeluch than in the rest. Emma Johnson has now recorded all three of Crusell's clarinet concertos, which makes me wonder whether ASV, as with the Weber concertante works (7/91), will re-couple her recordings on a single disc, which would then be a winner. In the meantime this mixture could hardly be more delightful.'