Op.83 is the last of the six quartets written by Franz Krommer (as now we call him) for the instrument that he did so much to promote in its infancy, the clarinet. He was born Frantisek Vincent Kramar was born in 1759 in the Moravian town of Kamenice, a heritage that goes some way to explaining the seemingly endless flow of good-humoured, well-made melodies that sprang from his pen and are so ideally suited to the liquid flow of the clarinet’s tone. Krommer was one of the most successful of the many influential Czech composers in Vienna at the turn of the 18th century. With the exception of piano works, lieder and operas, Krommer cultivated all the musical genres of his time, and was regarded (with Haydn) as the leading composer of string quartets, and as a serious rival of Beethoven.
He is perhaps best known now for his clarinet concertos, to which his quartets including the instrument form a not insubstantial pendant: they, too, are full of virtuosic writing for the instrument, who placed forward in a soloistic position, with the string parts mostly moving together to accompany it. In the late Clarinet Quintet, however, the instruments enjoy a more equal balance of the kind familiar from Brahms’s chamber music for the instrument: indeed, in the opening movement’s fugue, the clarinet is the last voice to enter. Here the harmonies are cloudier, more Romantically inclined, and a more reflective spirit presides even in the quick outer movements: there is a rapt and melancholic Andante which deserves far greater popularity.
These new recordings come from Dutch instrumentalists who have specialised in this repertoire. As principal clarinettist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, Henk de Graaf has recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (as soloist) and much chamber music from the late-Classical/Early Romantic period by Crusell, Weber, Spohr and others.
Frantisek Kramar (1759-1831) was born in Moravia (his name Krommer was adopted by him when settling in Germany and Austria), and held musical posts at several European courts, his last station being Kapellmeister of the Vienna Imperial Court. He was a famous and popular composer in his time, spoken of in the same breath as Haydn and Beethoven.
Krommer’s compositions are in perfect Viennese style, a combination of charm, transparency and instrumental brilliance. He wrote prolifically for a wide variety of instruments.
This new recording presents two of his masterworks: the Clarinet Quartet and Clarinet Quintet, substantial works which foreshadow the early Mendelssohn and Schumann.
Excellent playing by Henk de Graaf, former solo clarinettist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, who already successfully recorded the Crusell Clarinet Quartets (BC93682), Octet Partitas by Krommer (BC93759) and Clarinet Concertos by Molter (BC93337).