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Andreas SPÄTH (1790-1876)
Introduction & Variations on Weber’s favorite Romance from Preciosa for clarinet and string quartet (pub. 1830) op. 133 [12:45]
Three Nocturnes op. 175 for clarinet and piano (pub. 1842) [18:32]
Fantaisie on an aria by Mozart op. 119 for clarinet and piano (pub. 1829) [9:54]
Elegie op. 178 for clarinet and piano (pub. 1843) [11:22]
Three Melodies op. 196 for clarinet and piano (pub. 1847) [12:59]
Variations op. 69 for clarinet and string quartet (pub. 1822) [13:05]
Rita Karin Meier (clarinet)
Karl-Andreas Kolly (piano)
Galatea Quartet
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
MDG 903 2119-6 SACD [78:40]

Andreas Späth is a new name to me, but his long and distinguished career saw him create a varied catalogue of over 150 works. He was also a clarinettist, violinist, organist, and voice teacher, as well as becoming the city music director in Neuchâtel and an honorary member of the Swiss Music Society among other things. Very little of his music has found its way onto recordings, so this extensive overview of his chamber music with clarinet is very welcome indeed.

This release is titled ‘Romantic Clarinet Chamber Music’, but Späth’s idiom has a Classical poise and an elegant lack of sentimentality, at least in the Introduction & Variations on Weber op. 133. This has a nice variety in its variations, emphasising lyricism and witty inflection rather than pure virtuosity, though there is indeed some of this in evidence, and we are fortunate to be in the safe hands of soloist Rita Karin Meier. Her playing is free of vibrato but vibrant in tone and richly expressive of phrase, blending well with an ‘early music’ approach from the strings, whose clean sound help make this into an impressively transparent performance of a work that deserves to be part of standard clarinet repertoire.

The Three Nocturnes op. 175 for clarinet and piano are song-like in character, using the clarinet to range widely over its themes and using the piano as a kind of ‘orchestral reduction’. Minor-key melancholy is a feature of this piece, that has a nicely cantabile central Adagio e con molto espressione, and a final Nocturne that takes us some way into the ballroom while not entirely sweeping us off our feet with its swift 3-to-a-bar. The Fantaisie on an aria by Mozart op. 119 draws on Cherubino’s aria “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio” from Act I of The Marriage of Figaro. The piano is given a more active role here, entering into dialogue with the clarinet as well as delivering considerable harmonic variety as Späth has all kinds of fun with his material, taking us a long way from Mozart while never entirely forgetting his presence.

The Elegie Op. 178 is unexpectedly spectacular from the outset in its lively piano part, and the virtuosity of the clarinet part both in range and filigree fingering suggests it might have been intended for a specific player. The Three Melodies op. 196 also takes the genre further than might be anticipated from the title. Späth’s approach is positively operatic with moments that recall Weber, and the overall feel is that of extrovert or expressively refined showpieces, possibly also with the violin in mind when it comes to performance. No mention is made of the instrument used for these recordings but the piano has a period feel to its sound, with darker texture than a modern instrument – and by no means the worse for that. Karl-Andreas Kolly’s accompaniments are sensitive and full of character, though the piano is arguably a little distant when it comes to the recorded balance.

The final Variations Op. 69 bring us back to clarinet and strings. This was dedicated to Johann Simon Hermstedt, known from contemporary sources to have been considered “the most outstanding of clarinettists now living.” The string quartet is inevitably subservient to the soloist, but also has some interesting passages of its own, and Späth’s writing is skilled at every level, capable of packing in plenty of surprise both in terms of demands from the players but in particular in his knack of taking us on some strikingly unexpected harmonic byways.

These are impressive performances of some very fine music indeed for clarinet. The SACD recording is excellent, with the resonant halo of the acoustic just enough for a generous and spacious listening experience without clouding detail. The Galatea Quartet is admirable as is pianist Karl-Andreas Kolly, but Rita Karin Mayer’s clarinet playing is both technically superb and musically sublime. This is a very enjoyable release, and for one am glad to have been able to make the acquaintance of Andreas Späth.

Dominy Clements



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