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Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, May 2009

Attention to the Stamitz family’s music has come not least from Naxos, who have also recorded an earlier volume of Carl’s clarinet concertos with the same team (8.553584); they regarded Concerto No.1 from this set highly enough to include the third movement Rondeau on their 20th-anniversary highlights CD (8.550020).  On the evidence of this volume, they were quite right to do so.

In 1770 Carl left the security of the Mannheim court for employment with the Duke of Noialles and, in the following year, for an itinerant career in Paris, London, the Hague and various German cities before he settled, temporarily, in Kassel in 1789.  These clarinet concertos are believed to date from his time in Paris in the early 1770s, where he met the famous Bohemian clarinettist Johann Joseph Beer.

They thus predate Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto by almost 20 years, yet they are attractive works; they certainly possess the charm mentioned in Naxos’s rear insert, but they have more strength than that description might imply. They are not unworthy at least to stand comparison with the Mozart concerto—after all, Mozart admired the Mannheim orchestra—especially when they are as well performed as they are here.  The ‘hunting’ finale to Concerto No.11 (tr.9) is especially attractive; not for nothing does the Chandos CD to which I’ve referred portray a hunting scene; though painting of Paris on the Naxos cover is attractive, it’s less appropriate.

Berkes plays with a very mellifluous tone, a feature which no-one appreciates more than I do.  Many years ago a colleague who was trying to learn to play the clarinet pitched in at the deep end with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, inspired by Jack Brymer’s recording with the RPO and Sir Thomas Beecham—still available and still sounding first-rate on EMI GROC 5 67596 2, coupled with the Bassoon Concerto and ‘Jupiter’ Symphony.  When he couldn’t find anyone more accomplished to accompany him, it fell to my lot to do so.  I don’t know who was the more incompetent; I was no substitute for the RPO and he was certainly no Brymer, but at least I only played wrong notes; I didn’t make the awful sound that only an amateur clarinettist can produce.  To hear a player of Berkes’ quality is still a considerable relief.

The support which he receives from the Esterházy Sinfonia is always more than adequate and the recording is also good.  They perform on eight of the CDs in Naxos’s complete symphony edition, recently reissued as a 34-CD set (8.503400).  Reviewing that set, Bob Briggs thought their contribution among the best, reserving his greatest praise for their recording of Symphony No.69, ‘Laudon’, coupled with Nos. 89 and 91 and also available separately (8.550769).  I can also recommend several of their recordings of Vivaldi concertos.  I rate their support for Berkes just as highly as those Haydn and Vivaldi performances.

This CD can stand comparison with other available versions, such as Sabine Meyer’s of Nos.10 and 11, with the Academy of St Martin and Iona Brown (EMI 7 54844 2).  The music generally benefits from Berkes’ mostly slightly faster tempi in these two concertos, especially in the hunting finale of No.11 which I’ve highlighted as one of the most attractive movements.  Meyer and Brown start the movement at a faster tempo and play with a winning rhythm, even managing to convey the sound of hunting dogs, but they pause occasionally to admire the scenery.  There’s not much in it; both make a good case for the music.

The Naxos notes are informative and well written.  If you’re wondering about the connection of two of the concertos with Darmstadt, the notes make it clear that the nickname arose simply from the fact that the scores were preserved there until destroyed in the Second World War.  I can almost guarantee that if you buy this CD you’ll want Volume 1 (8.553584) and some of Naxos’s other recordings of Carl Stamitz’s music.  Another feather in Naxos’s well-filled cap.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

…Kálmán Berkes on Naxos is by no means a lesser soloist. He finds a Bohemian sense of fun in the closing Rondos, which is less obvious with Meyer, although she still plays them light-heartedly and her collection remains very enjoyable. The accompaniments on Naxos are also warm and stylish and the recording is excellent.

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