CRUSELL: Clarinet Concertos (Gerard Korsten/ Per Billman/ Uppsala Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554144)
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Bernhard HenrikCrusell (1775-1838)
The Finnish composer Bemhard Henrik Crusell was born in Uusikaupunki,the Swedish Nystad, in October 1775, the son of a bookbinder, Jakob Crusell.
His musical abilities were early recognised and he had his training, from theage of eight, as a pupil of a regimental clarinettist, Westerberg. He won thepatronage of a certain Lieutenant Lorenz Armfelt, who in 1788 opened for himthe possibility of a career as an army musician. With the encouragement of MajorOlof von Wallensterna at Sveaborg he was able to join the regimental band ofthe Queen Mother's Life Guards, moving to Stockholm in 1791 and, before he wasyet seventeen, assuming the direction of the band. In Stockholm in 1793 he wasrecruited as first clarinettist into the Hovkapellet by the Court KapellmeisterGeorg Joseph Vogler, the Abbe Vogler, who owed much to Mannheim and hadentered the service of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus III in 1786, toreturn in 1793, after the King's assassination, in the employment of his formerpupil, now Gustavus Adolphus IV. From 1794 to 1796 he was principalclarinettist in the wind ensemble of the Prince Regent and in 1798 he was ableto travel to Berlin to study further with the virtuoso Franz Tausch, the teacherof Heinrich Baermann, and himself a product of Mannheim, now in the service ofKing Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. In 1803 he took the opportunity oftravelling to Paris for lessons in composition from Gossec and Henri-MontanBerton and in clarinet from the virtuoso Jean Xavier Lef?¿vre, who had joinedthe staff of the Paris Conservatoire at its foundation in 1795. In the Swedishcourt music establishment, to which he returned after a few months in Paris, heserved, from about 1808, as acting Kapellmeister but in 1818, on theaccession to the throne of Count Bernadotte, had to content himself with thepost of music director of the band of the Royal Grenadier Life Guards, aposition he retained until his death in 1838. Crusell won wider distinction inStockholm. Not only was he recognised as one of the great clarinet virtuosi ofhis time, but, a man of wide culture, he also won distinction as a linguist,with translations of opera libretti. His own opera Den lilla slafvinnan ('TheLittle Slave Girl'), a version of the work of the French 'Corneille of theboulevards', Guilbert de Pixerecourt, won success, as did his setting of adozen poems by the Swedish poet Esaias Tegner, drawn from his historicallyinspired Frithiofs Saga, among other songs. Crusell was awarded the GoldMedal of the Royal Swedish Academy in 1837.
The first of Crusell's three clarinet concertos, the Concerto inE flat major, Opus 1, dedicated to Count Gustav Trolle-Bonde, is thoughtto have been written at some time between 1803 and 1805 and was published inLeipzig in 1811. The work opens with the expected orchestral exposition, afterwhich the soloist enters with a characteristically embellished version of thefirst subject, leading, in writing that displays the range and possibilities ofthe clarinet, to the second subject, now in the expected key of B flat major.
The material is developed and returns in recapitulation. The A flat major slowmovement allows the clarinet a brief aria, to be followed by the lively final Rondo,which again finds room for virtuoso display in scales, arpeggios andfiguration that exploits the contrasted registers of the solo instrument.
Crusell's Concerto in F minor, Opus 5, has been dated to 1815. Itwas dedicated to Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, and published, when the necessarypermission had been granted, in 1818. The choice of key and the nature of thethematic material make of this work something very different. The firstmovement is again in the expected form, with an orchestral exposition dominatedby the principal theme, leading to the entry of the soloist. Again in the solowriting there is a full use of the resources of the instrument and thecomposer's own virtuosity as a performer, with the two characteristic registersof the clarinet exploited at once, before the development of the theme by thesolo instrument. The key of F minor allows an additional element of drama andoccasional poignancy that is very much of its period. A portrait of thecomposer painted in the 1820s by Johan Gustaf Sandberg shows him holding thescore of the concerto with the principal theme of the first movement seen inthe music he is holding, a suggestion of its importance to him. The D flatmajor slow movement, an Andante pastorale in a lilting 9/8 metre, givesa chance for display of another kind, in its dynamic changes and contrasts,with final echo effects that offer, incidentally, a further technical challengein the demand for the softest playing imaginable, as the clarinet answers theorchestra. The movement is followed by a final F minor Rondo of greatcharm, ending in a positive F major.
The third of Crusell's clarinet concertos, the Concerto in B flatmajor, Opus 11, was published in 1828 and dedicated to Crown PrinceOscar of Sweden and Norway. It is an earlier composition than the Concerto inF minor and seemingly dates from 1807. The soloist enters at once withthe orchestra, adding its own element to the first dozen bars or so, before theorchestra is left to pursue its own course. An ascending arpeggio introducesthe solo entry proper, after which the thematic material is fully explored,with all the resources of the solo instrument. The E flat major slow movement,as so often, uses a theme that starts with the notes of the tonic chord. Thereis room for a cadenza and for a show of technical virtuosity that alwaysremains subservient to the music itself. The concerto ends with an Aliapolacca movement, its varied rhythmic figuration again characteristic ofclarinet writing of the period, of the work of Spohr and of Weber, although itis Crusell himself, who, as a remarkable performer, knows above all how tointegrate technical with musical possibilities.
Per Billman was born in 1961 and started to play the clarinet in themunicipal music school in his home town of Tingsryd. The experience he gainedplaying in wind bands there inspired him to continue his studies at theConservatories in Malmo and Stockholm. After graduating in 1985 he spentseveral years as a freelance musician in Stockholm at the Folk Opera, with theStockholm Ensemble and with the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra, of which he isstill a member. From 1988 to 1991 he was a member of the Falu Wind Quintet, andhe now performs with the Vadeaux Quintet. Since 1991 he has been principal clarinetat the Royal Opera House, a position which he assumed exactly 190 years afterBernhard Crusell.
Uppsala Chamber Orchestra
The Uppsala Chamber Orchestra was established in 1968 under Carl RuneLarsson, director musices at the University of Uppsala. Originallyemploying professional and very competent amateur players, the orchestraunderwent re-organisation in 1988 and again in 1993, now with a varyingcomplement of twenty-five to over forty musicians. In 1994 Gerard Korstenbecame the first chief conductor. This is the orchestra's second CD for Naxos,the first being an enormously successful recording of the complete DrottningholmMusic by the eighteenth-century Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman (Naxos8553733).
Since 1994 Gerard Korsten has been principal conductor of the UppsalaChamber Orchestra. Over the years he has had a strong influence on theorchestra, conducting many concerts in the Great Hall of Uppsala University. Hewas also the driving force behind