About this Recording
8.550689 - SPOHR: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 2 and 4 / Fantasia, Op. 81

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 doctor and descendant of a family that had for some generations been firmly established in the cure of souls or of bodies. The family moved to Seesen in 1786 and here Spohr began to develop 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 in Brunswick, where, in 1799, he was accepted as a violinist in the court orchestra, with the encouragement of the reigning duke, a nephew of Frederick the Great. It was through this patron that violin lessons were arranged with Franz Eck, a musician from the old Mannheim orchestra, 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 to promotion and a successful concert-tour to other German cities. The result of this was his appointment in 1805 as Konzertmeister at Gotha, where he met and married Dorette Scheidler, daughter of a singer and herself a harpist and pianist. In Gotha he was able to continue his activities as both composer and virtuoso violinist, while securing a good standard 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 and his wife, and concert-tours that spread his reputation further afield. It was as a result of success in Vienna that he was invited in 1813 to join the Theater an der Wien as director of the orchestra. The appointment now gave him a chance to broaden his activities as a composer, with the possibility of the staging of any opera he might write, although the first result of this, his Faust, was rejected, to be given its first performance in Prague in 1816.

Spohr's position in Vienna proving unsatisfactory, in spite of his success with the public, he arranged for the termination of his contract and after a year spent in Italy moved in 1817 to Frankfurt as Kapellmeister at the opera, where his Faust was staged. In 1820 he resigned, undertaking engagements in London, Paris and Dresden and in 1822 accepting the position of Kapellmeister in Kassel. This appointment did not put an end to his concert-tours, which he was able to resume during the course of the next thirty-five years. Nevertheless his association 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 countries as one of the leading composers of the time, a position that, by the time of his death, he had begun to lose. Spohr represented a link with the old classical tradition and fashions were now changing. While much of his violin music, the duets, concertos and the Violinschule, remain of importance for students of the instrument, and compositions like the Nonet are still 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 exceptions to this general neglect of his work. They come at an important stage in the development of the instrument and its repertoire and thus hold a special position among players. The first of them, the Clarinet Concerto in C minor, Opus 26, was written in the autumn of 1808 for the clarinettist Johann Simon Hermstedt in response to a commission from his employer, Prince Günther Friedrich Carl of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. The clarinet part necessitated various changes in the instrument itself, which Hermstedt was able to secure, ensuring a proper response throughout its register. The second of Spohr's clarinet concertos, the Concerto No.2 in E flat major, Opus 57, was also written for Hermstedt in 1810 for performance at the Frankenhausen Festival. Spohr has left 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 a sustained note crescendo, but these were nothing to the problems of a viola-player in Spohr's Pot-Pourri for viola and string quartet, who had problems with a loosening belt and pantaloons that gradually descended, to the fascination of the audience. The concerto is a delightful work, allowing an operatic role to the soloist and ending with an inventive final movement, in which the timpani plays an unusual part.

Spohr's Clarinet Concerto No.4 in E minor was again written for Hermstedt for the Nordhausen Festival of 1829, with Spohr himself playing in a concertante for four violins by the Hanover composer Maurer. The first movement opens dramatically enough, exploiting the connotations of the minor 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 and the subsidiary theme are developed, leading to a climax of agile arpeggios as the movement comes to an end. The slow movement calls for perfect breath control, with its sustained notes and long phrases. It is followed by a final Spanish rondo, with a cadenza leading to the first episode, after the announcement of the principal theme, and a continuing exploration of the full register of the solo instrument.

Spohr was on good terms with the Stuttgart Kapellmeister Franz Danzi, whom he had met in 1808 when he performed with the Stuttgart Court Orchestra. His Fantasia and Variations on a Theme of Danzi opens dramatically enough with a histrionic display by the solo clarinet, leading to the statement of the simple theme on which the variations are to be based. The theme is varied and embellished by the clarinet in rapid arpeggio and scale passages, in a sequence that allows the return of drama, before the innocent charm of the final section of the work.

Ernst Ottensamer
Ernst Ottensamer was born in 1955 at Wallern in Upper Austria and studied the clarinet at the Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, before moving to Vienna Musikhochschule, where he completed his studies in 1979. He first played with the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1978, before becoming a principal clarinettist in 1983. Since 1986 he has also been a member of the teaching staff of the Vienna Musikhochschule. Ernst Ottensamer enjoys a busy career as a founder-member of the Vienna Wind Ensemble, with which he has undertaken more than 150 engagements at home and abroad. He has appeared as a soloist with a number of leading orchestras in Vienna and performed the Weber E flat Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic as part of the 1990 Salzburg Easter Festival.

Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)
The East Slovakian town of Košice boasts a long and distinguished musical tradition, as part of a province that once provided Vienna with musicians. The State Philharmonic Orchestra is of relatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductor Bystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macura and Ladislav Slovak, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer. The orchestra has toured widely in Eastern and Western Europe and plays an important part in the Košice Musical Spring and the Košice International Organ Festival.

For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the first compact disc recordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim Raff. Writing on the last of these, one critic praised the orchestra for its competence comparable to that of the major orchestras of Vienna and Prague. The orchestra has contributed many successful volumes to the complete compact disc Johann Strauss II and for Naxos has recorded a varied repertoire.

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief, succeeded recently by Robert Stankovsky. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.

Johannes Wildner
Johannes Wildner was born in the Austrian resort of Mürzzuschlag in 1956 and studied violin and conducting, taking his diploma at the Vienna Musikhochschule and proceeding to a doctorate in musicology. A member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, he has toured widely as leader of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra's Johann Strauss Ensemble and of the Vienna Mozart Academy. As a conductor he has directed the Orchestra Sinfonica dell'Emilia Romagna Arturo Toscanini, the Budapest State Opera Orchestra, the Silesian Philharmonic, the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic and others. He has recorded works by Schumann, Wagner and Mozart for Naxos and is one of the main conductors in the Marco Polo Johann Strauss II complete edition.

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