Thursday 27 July 2017

Spellbound by the romantic clarinet

Beyond the bail-out, I've had a beautiful week with the music of the clarinet. Today is the birthday of Franz Krommer, a Bohemian composer born in 1759 who specialised in woodwind music, and that set me rifling through the CDs in search of something soothing, and I found it.

Krommer's clarinet concerto in E flat is a standard in that instrument's repertoire. This concerto, first published in 1803, is typical of the era -- three movements: a lengthy introduction, a slow one, and then a rondo.

'My Krommer' is on an eponymous album by one of the modern generation of virtuosi, Sharon Kam (Warner Classics 0927 49708-2), which covers a broad swathe of styles, from Mozart to Gershwin.

It was with the latter's clarinet concerto that Sharon Kam shot to prominence, winning the 1992 ARD International Music Competition, Germany's most prestigious prize.

Kam was born into a musical household in Haifa, in northern Israel, in 1971 and studied at the renowned Julliard School in New York.

After winning the prize, she was much in demand, and her schedule would take her one night to a concert in Essen where she shares the stage with the man who would become her husband, conductor Gregor Bühl.

With him, she collaborated on The Romantic Clarinet (Berlin Classics 0016202BC), which features the music of Rietz, Bruch, and von Weber.

It was the Romantic composers who really gave the clarinet wings, and their contributions are gloriously commemorated on another album, this time with the Israeli pianist Itamar Golan (Souvenirs, Berlin Classics 0016342BC). Seldom can the likes of Elgar's Salut d'amour, Fauré's Après un Rêve, or Massenet's famous Méditation from Thaïs have sounded as sweet.

Mozart himself declared that the clarinet was the closest, musically, to the human voice, and he had a particular fondness for the instrument.

Sharon Kam's clarinet certainly has a spellbinding emotional range. Fitting, then, that her next project should be a Mozart album featuring the clarinet concerto and quintet, and due out next autumn.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning. ghamilton@independent.ie

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