SCO - Weber: Wind Concertos - MusicWeb International

I'm lucky enough to be a regular with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and in their last concert of 2012 their playing of this repertoire really impressed me. The technical virtuosity of everyone involved can be taken as read; however, when I wrote about that concert I said that the thing that made it really special was the sense of partnership that comes when the soloists are all principals with the orchestra. That's true on this CD too, and the sense of equal collaboration makes these concertos living, breathing articles rather than mere vehicles for showmanship.

The relationship between the soloists and the orchestra, therefore, has been thoroughly thought through, and it's evident right from the opening of the disc, where the strings sound like caged beasts pawing the ground as they wait for the silky tones of the clarinet to calm the mood. Maximiliano Martín's clarinet has a delightful singing quality to it, not least in his long-breathed first appearance, setting the clarinet's tentative opening line against the restless quality of the orchestral writing. At the start of the development the clarinet sounds as though it is groping around in the dark before growing into a rapid-fire dialogue with the orchestral winds and, as the recapitulation begins, the sinister edge of uncertainty creeps back into the music. It's passages like this that really underscore the tremendous sense of partnership that characterises this CD and makes the SCO a world leader in repertoire like this. Martín's breath control is exemplary in the sumptuous line of the slow movement, and his colleagues accompany him with the right combination of subtlety and character. The interplay with the horns is particularly magical, as is the jolly spontaneity of the finale which leads up to an irreverent final phrase.

The bassoon concerto, on the other hand, is, as the concert programme pointed out last December, one of the few bassoon concertos that is not designed merely to make us laugh. The ceremonial opening is majestic without a hint of pomposity and, when the bassoon enters it offsets the triumphalism with lyrical beauty, though it might perhaps take a minute before you convince yourself that he isn't just having a laugh! Peter Whelan's fingers have to work overtime in the fast sections of the outer movements, and there are some genuinely comic moments in the finale, but he is at his finest in the lovely slow movement where, again, Weber lives in the long line which Whelan allows to cast its magic without fuss or bustle.

The two concertinos are so named because they are in single movement form, but they still contain some very impressive music. Alec Frank-Gemill is already a hugely impressive soloist, and he invests the horn concertino with a sense of high drama, floating his opening line against the throbbing string backdrop. The main theme of the not-quite-slow section moves along unfussily before it is put through some rather surprising variations, culminating in an extraordinary, improvisatory-sounding section that is slower and profoundly meditative, a mood blown away by the final Polonaise. The clarinet concertino has a very similar structure, though its mood is a little more schizophrenic. It's every bit as successful, though, with Martín's playing just as impressive as in the full-scale F minor concerto.

The other partner worth mentioning is Alexander Janiczek who is an Associate Artist with the orchestra and appears with them regularly, both as conductor and soloist. He, therefore, understands them very well, and this comes through in his choice of tempi and the naturalness of his phrasing so that Weber's fairly regular changes of mood never sound forced or contrived but flow naturally into one another. This disc is a real winner, and probably a top choice if you want to explore further than Weber's famous clarinet concertos. David Kettle's excellent booklet notes and Linn's exemplary recorded sound only help to seal the deal.

MusicWeb International
01 March 2013