Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Rondo: Alla Polacca
For the E flat major Concerto Spohr follows tradition with a full-scale opening tutti though, after a call to attention from the orchestra in the first few bars, he slyly lets the soloist respond briefly before the tutti gets fully under way. As befits the original occasion there is much festive writing for trumpets and drums while a march rhythm dominates the second subject which first appears in the unexpected key of D flat major before reaching its destination of B flat major. Again there is a new theme in the ‘development’ section which provides a contrasting romantic lyrical quality to the surrounding festive pomp and, as in all of Spohr’s four clarinet concertos as well as most of his others, no space is found for a cadenza. Spohr thought that cadenzas pandered to the worst side of solo instrumentalists and he generally shunned them.
For the Adagio, Spohr chose one of his favourite keys, A flat major, which he had also opted for in the C minor Concerto. Here, though, we have a full-scale movement which beautifully exploits the clarinet’s rich low chalumeau register as well as including a wonderfully powerful contrasting section in C minor where the soloist executes dramatic runs and leaps. Also, the orchestral wind, especially the flute and bassoon, step forward to share the limelight briefly with the clarinet. The finale (‘Alla Polacca’ – in the then fashionable polonaise style) begins with solo timpani answered by the horns before the clarinet introduces the main theme; this opening timpani–horn exchange goes on to play a prominent part in the movement. Hermstedt was especially famous for his playing in the upper register so Spohr gives him chance to show off by ascending stratospherically to C altissimo, a real test for a performer even today.
from notes by Keith Warsop © 2005
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain