SPOHR: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 2 and 4 / Fantasia, Op. 81 (Ernst Ottensamer/ Johannes Wildner/ Karol Kopernicky/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550689)
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Louis Spohr (1784 - 1859)
Clarinet Concerto No.2 in E Flat Major, Op. 57
Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E Minor
Fantasia and Variations on a Theme of Danzi, Op. 81
Louis Spohr was born in Brunswick in 1784, the son of a doctorand descendant of a family that had for some generations been firmly established in thecure of souls or of bodies. The family moved to Seesen in 1786 and here Spohr began todevelop his innate musical interests, with violin lessons and attempts at composition.
From 1797 he was able to pursue a sounder course of general and musical education inBrunswick, where, in 1799, he was accepted as a violinist in the court orchestra, with theencouragement of the reigning duke, a nephew of Frederick the Great. It was through thispatron that violin lessons were arranged with Franz Eck, a musician from the old Mannheimorchestra, whom Spohr accompanied on a concert-tour to Russia. His return to Brunswick,now with the first of his violin concertos published with a dedication to the Duke, led topromotion and a successful concert-tour to other German cities. The result of this was hisappointment in 1805 as Konzertmeister at Gotha, where he met and married DoretteScheidler, daughter of a singer and herself a harpist and pianist. In Gotha he was able tocontinue his activities as both composer and virtuoso violinist, while securing a goodstandard of performance from the orchestra in a court that paid proper attention to music.
There followed further compositions, some for violin and harp to be played by himself andhis wife, and concert-tours that spread his reputation further afield. It was as a resultof success in Vienna that he was invited in 1813 to join the Theater an der Wien asdirector of the orchestra. The appointment now gave him a chance to broaden his activitiesas a composer, with the possibility of the staging of any opera he might write, althoughthe first result of this, his Faust, wasrejected, to be given its first performance in Prague in 1816.
Spohr's position in Vienna proving unsatisfactory, in spite ofhis success with the public, he arranged for the termination of his contract and after ayear spent in Italy moved in 1817 to Frankfurt as Kapellmeister at the opera, where his Faust was staged. In 1820 he resigned, undertakingengagements in London, Paris and Dresden and in 1822 accepting the position ofKapellmeister in Kassel. This appointment did not put an end to his concert-tours, whichhe was able to resume during the course of the next thirty-five years. Nevertheless hisassociation with Kassel was to continue, for better or worse, until his death in 1859.
During this period he consolidated his reputation abroad and in German- speaking countriesas one of the leading composers of the time, a position that, by the time of his death, hehad begun to lose. Spohr represented a link with the old classical tradition and fashionswere now changing. While much of his violin music, the duets, concertos and the Violinschule, remain of importance for students ofthe instrument, and compositions like the Nonet arestill heard, much of Spohr's work is only now undergoing a slow process of revival.
Spohr's concertos for the clarinet are in a measure exceptionsto this general neglect of his work. They come at an important stage in the development ofthe instrument and its repertoire and thus hold a special position among players. Thefirst of them, the Clarinet Concerto in C minor, Opus26, was written in the autumn of 1808 for the clarinettist Johann SimonHermstedt in response to a commission from his employer, Prince G??nther Friedrich Carl ofSchwarzburg-Sondershausen. The clarinet part necessitated various changes in theinstrument itself, which Hermstedt was able to secure, ensuring a proper responsethroughout its register. The second of Spohr's clarinet concertos, the Concerto No.2 in E flat major, Opus 57, was alsowritten for Hermstedt in 1810 for performance at the Frankenhausen Festival. Spohr hasleft an account of a performance in Altona, which took place after dinner, with Hermstedt,one of the most distinguished clarinettists of the day, having problems of squeaking on asustained note crescendo, but these were nothing to the problems of a viola-player inSpohr's Pot-Pourri for viola and string quartet, who had problems with aloosening belt and pantaloons that gradually descended, to the fascination of theaudience. The concerto is a delightful work, allowing an operatic role to the soloist andending with an inventive final movement, in which the timpani plays an unusual part.
Spohr's Clarinet ConcertoNo.4 in E minor was again written for Hermstedt for the Nordhausen Festival of1829, with Spohr himself playing in a concertante for four violins by the Hanover composerMaurer. The first movement opens dramatically enough, exploiting the connotations of theminor key. The usual orchestral exposition builds up to the entry of the solo instrument,with its embellished version of the principal theme and further virtuosity, as this andthe subsidiary theme are developed, leading to a climax of agile arpeggios as the movementcomes to an end. The slow movement calls for perfect breath control, with its sustainednotes and long phrases. It is followed by a final Spanish rondo, with a cadenza leading tothe first episode, after the announcement of the principal theme, and a continuingexploration of the full register of the solo instrument.
Spohr was on good terms with the Stuttgart Kapellmeister FranzDanzi, whom he had met in 1808 when he performed with the Stuttgart Court Orchestra. His Fantasia and Variations on a Theme of Danzi opensdramatically enough with a histrionic display by the solo clarinet, leading to thestatement of the simple theme on which the variations are to be based. The theme is variedand embellished by the clarinet in rapid arpeggio and scale passages, in a sequence thatallows the return of drama, before the innocent charm of the final section of the work.
Ernst Ottensamer was born in 1955 at Wallern in Upper Austria and studied the clarinet atthe Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, before moving to Vienna Musikhochschule, where hecompleted his studies in 1979. He first played with the Vienna State Opera and ViennaPhilharmonic Orchestra in 1978, before becoming a principal clarinettist in 1983. Since1986 he has also been a member of the teaching staff of the Vienna Musikhochschule. ErnstOttensamer enjoys a busy career as a founder-member of the Vienna Wind Ensemble, withwhich he has undertaken more than 150 engagements at home and abroad. He has appeared as asoloist with a number of leading orchestras in Vienna and performed the Weber E flatConcerto with the Vienna Philharmonic as part of the 1990 Salzburg Easter Festival.
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Koice)
The East Slovakian town of Koice boasts a long and distinguished musical tradition,as part of a province that once provided Vienna with musicians. The State PhilharmonicOrchestra is of relatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductorBystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macura andLadislav Slovak, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer. The orchestrahas toured widely in Eastern and Western Europe and plays an important part in theKoice Musical Spring and the Koice International Organ Festival.
For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the first compact discrecordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim Raff. Writing on the last ofthese, one