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Clarinet Quintet in B flat major, J182 Op 34
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Recordings
'Weber: Chamber Music' (CDA67464)
Weber: Chamber Music
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Details
Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Fantastia: Adagio
Movement 3: Menuetto: Capriccio
Movement 4: Rondo: Allegro giojoso

Clarinet Quintet in B flat major, J182 Op 34
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Early in 1810, having been briefly imprisoned for debt, Weber was escorted by the police across the Württemberg frontier and banished for life. Settling in Heidelberg and Darmstadt, he made musical friends to whom were added, on a visit to Munich in mid-March 1811, Heinrich Baermann. Two years older than Weber, Baermann had already made a name for himself as a clarinettist, and the warmth and richness of his tone and style gave the instrument an appeal to Weber which was rivalled only by that of the horn. A report from the Paris correspondent of the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1818 praises Baermann’s skill, with particular mention for his musical taste and for the warmth of his tone, ‘which has not the slightest strain or shrillness in it, both of which are so common among clarinettists’. Weber wrote no fewer than six works for Baermann: a Concertino, two concertos, a set of variations with piano accompaniment, the Grand Duo Concertant in which two virtuosos are matched on equal terms, and the present Clarinet Quintet in B flat major, J182.

A note in Weber’s diary for 24 September 1811 reads, ‘Began comp: Quintett for Bär:’. Parts of the minuet and the opening Allegro were sketched over the next few days, though the Allegro was not finished until April 1813. Weber then presented the work, still lacking the final Rondo, to Baermann for his birthday on 13 April, and they tried the three movements out in Louis Spohr’s rooms on 3 May. Not until 25 August 1815 was the Rondo eventually added. Shortly before meeting Weber, Baermann had acquired a ten-key instrument by Griessling und Schlott that opened up new technical possibilities, and the music is clearly intended for Baermann personally and for his new clarinet. (Some twenty years after Baermann’s death in 1847, his son Carl made a version of this work which he claimed was based on his father’s performing tradition, and it is this which is used in the present recording.)

After introductory string chords, Weber opens his sonata-form Allegro with a pianissimo phrase rising and swelling from a high B flat, an effect made more accessible by the new instrument. High notes and their smooth linking with low ones feature in the invention, as does the greater ease with chromatic scales. The graceful slow movement, entitled Fantasia, includes two passages in which the clarinet soars up a long chromatic scale fortissimo, repeated pianissimo before the elegant melody is resumed. It is music not simply for show, but revelling in the new expressive possibilities which performer and instrument can now command. The lively Menuetto (subtitled Capriccio) enjoys the instrument’s ability to handle previously difficult fingerings; and the concluding Rondo, though including a brief Romantic shudder by the future composer of Der Freischütz, gives even the finest player plenty to think about in the final burst of applause music.

from notes by John Warrack © 2005

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