Weber: The Symphonies - Kantorow
Carl Maria von Weber: Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 2, Bassoon Concerto, Andante e Rondo Ongarese
Jaakko Luoma (bassoon)
Jean-Jacques Kantorow (conductor)
The Tapiola Sinfonietta has recorded a number of highly acclaimed discs for BIS spanning a repertoire from Rautavaara, Pärt and Shostakovich to Saint-Saëns and Mozart.
On one of the orchestra’s most recent releases, under conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow, the programme was centred on the clarinet concertos by Carl Maria von Weber, with Martin Fröst as soloist. The orchestra’s contribution to the much-praised result was noticed by the reviewers, as witness the following description on website classicstoday.com: ‘perfect accompaniments: swift, sensitive, texturally transparent, and rhythmically snappy’.
On the present disc Tapiola Sinfonietta and Kantorow revisit Weber, again focussing on works by the young composer, from before the fame that Der Freischütz would bring. The two symphonies – the only works in the genre that Weber composed – were written in the space of six weeks around New Year 1808, while Weber were staying at the court of the Count of Württemberg-Öls in Carlsruhe (nowadays Pokój in Poland).
Their scoring reflects the forces available in the Count’s orchestra: apart from strings and timpani Weber could call upon a flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and two trumpets. We may assume that the wind players were of exceptional quality, as these works offer them plenty of opportunities to show off. The symphonies also bear witness to the period of transition from classicism to romanticism, particularly in terms of orchestral colour.
The two works for bassoon and orchestra included on the disc were composed a few years later, specifically for Georg Friedrich Brandt, bassoonist in the Munich Court Orchestra. They are here performed by Jaakko Luoma, the principal bassonist of the Tapiola Sinfonietta, who gives them their full measure of both flamboyant virtuosity and lyric songfulness.
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Review by John Miller - June 16, 2009
Jean-Jacques Kantorow inspires the splendid Tapiola Sinfonietta to performances here which fairly crackle with electricity. Weber's two symphonies of 1807-8 may be early pieces, but they are superbly crafted, and packed with those orchestral colours and textures which so influenced Berlioz, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and even Chopin. They were composed for the court orchestra at Carlsruhe, which had no clarinets (Weber's favourite wind instrument), but their absence is deftly compensated for by extra attention to bassoons and violas.
The symphonies are well-structured, if mostly conventional in their classical style, but they already show Weber flirting with early Romanticism, employing a musical equivalent of Gothic drama and 'atmosphere' inspired by the new style of landscape painting. The Second Symphony retains the traditional minuet, but in a tense, syncopated form with disconcerting pauses, while the First Symphony has a new-fangled Scherzo, as subversive as any of Beethoven's. One great feature of these symphonies is their concentrated brevity; even in his early career Weber never rambles or wastes time with conventional orchestral vamping. Themes are interesting and arresting, developments significant and cogent, and moods range from thrilling drama through pungent wit to peaceful pastoral lyricism. Woodwinds, in particular, are given many juicy solos, which are clearly relished by the Sinfonietta players. Kantorow's fluid pacing seems to me near ideal for these works, and is far more convincing than Ray Goodman's period instrument set (Nimbus RBCD) in its disastrously reverberant acoustic.
The two symphonies are close in date, and if you are wondering why the Second Symphony opens the BIS programme, with the First Symphony closing the disc, the Second has a very brief finale (an oddly named Scherzo-Presto) of only 2'16". The First Symphony, however, has a Presto finale lasting over 6 minutes of brilliant orchestral fun and splendour, a real crowd-pleaser which brings the disc to a rousing conclusion - and no doubt left the players completely exhausted! Both the young Beethoven and Rossini would have been proud to have penned this movement.
The meat in the symphonic sandwich on this disc are the two concertante pieces for solo bassoon. Jaakko Luoma invests them with all his expressive artistry and affection, with the orchestra clearly enjoying their colourful and fresh-sounding accompaniments. Luoma's Heckel bassoon has a rich, creamy-smooth sound with smoky overtones, and his playing of even the most acrobatic roulades and huge leaps sounds effortless. I was particularly taken with the gorgeous Andante and Rondo Ungarese. Luoma's near-vocal production of the dancing theme (seductive and flirtatious) which forms the basis of variations in its first part, and the hugely comic Hungarian Dance (the bassoon's character blithely pompous), which concludes the piece linger in the memory. The F major Bassoon Concerto has more heft and classical style, and its slow movement is also a luxurious aria, in which Luoma again demonstrates his burnished legato and soulful cantabile to perfection.
Sonically, the music is presented in sharply-focussed immediacy which allows every nuance of the brilliant playing and unanimity of ensemble to come across. The symphonies and concertos respectively were captured in different halls in Espoo, Finland, but the engineers have managed to produce a sound which is apparently seamless throughout the disc, making it a fine concert. The ambience allows the large dynamic range conjured from the players by Cantorow to expand thrillingly, without exaggerating the bass or making the group sound unauthentically large.
This may be early Weber, but with such committed performances as these it is pure pleasure, and makes a fine partner for the BIS SACD of Weber's clarinet concertos with the same conductor and orchestra.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net