WEBER Clarinet Concerto. Grand duo concertant
Following discs of Brahms and Hindemith on Mirare, Raphaël Sévère – 21 at the time of this recording – turns to the infectious clarinet works of Weber: the evergreen F minor Concerto, the Grand duo concertant and the rather less heavyweight Variations on a melody from the composer’s 1810 opera Silvana. Sévère’s is a silky clarinet tone, fully even across the range, with a satisfying flare (without blare) in the instrument’s trumpet-like upper reaches. The concerto here is taken from a concert in Berlin, the piano-accompanied works from 10 days later in studio conditions in Paris.
The concerto traces a passage from darkness to light, the premonitions of Freischütz in the opening movement yielding to a central aria of Mozartian grace, all dissolved in the effervescence of the finale. From this showing, Sévère seems happiest in the darker music, exploiting the vocal qualities of his instrument. The finale, though, doesn’t quite bubble as it should: indeed, it starts fairly steadily, although it gains speed as it continues. Turn to Fabio Di Càsola and the spirits are much higher, in a more finely nuanced performance throughout the work. The DSO Berlin under 2010 Mahler Competition runner-up Aziz Shokhakimov offer workaday support, no match for Di Càsola’s St Petersburg players. Applause is retained.
The workmanlike variations are just the sort of salon music that was so popular in the early 19th century, although the piano does far more than accompany; Variation 4 is a bravura keyboard solo before the two instruments recombine. Jean Frédéric Neuburger is Sévère’s ready and willing accomplice but the performance doesn’t prove the work to be much more than exam fodder. The real deal is the Grand duo concertant, a piece I suspect the two musicians have performed far more often, whether together or apart, and this sonata-in-all-but-name proves the highlight of the disc: fine music and fine musicians finally gelling, although it took a while for the alchemy to happen.