Maryse Legault clarinet, Gili Loftus, fortepiano
Leaf Music LM265 (www.leaf-music.ca)
Born in Potsdam, Heinrich Baerman (1784-1847) was the great clarinet virtuoso of the early 19th century, a pupil of Joseph Beer, who in his turn had revolutionised clarinet playing late in the previous century. As such, Baerman, who for most of his career was first clarinet of the court orchestra in Munich, had contact with many of the leading composers of the day. These links owed much not only to his reputation as a virtuoso but also to his apparently congenial personality. The present CD includes two works by Baerman himself, an improvisatory Introduction and bright Polonaise (op 25), and a Nocturne in several sections, the most appealing of which is the lovely cantabile melody that follows the unexpectedly (given the title of the work) lively opening. Neither reveal Baerman to have been more than a modestly talented composer.
As might be expected, the works by Weber and Mendelssohn are a different matter. Weber’s connections with Baerman are more significant than those with any other major composer since, after their meeting in 1811, they not only toured together but Weber also composed several works for Baerman. They include his two clarinet concertos and a quintet. The Variations on a theme from the Opera ‘Silvana’, op 33, are a particularly interesting example of collaboration between composer and performer, having according to an anecdote cited in Maryse Legault’s helpful notes been composed together over the course of one night. One wonders how much liquid refreshment might have been added to the mix! It’s an attractive set of a theme and seven variations based on an aria from Weber’s Silvana, first given in Frankfurt in 1810. The theme sounds like the seeds of something that might have re-emerged in the music for Agathe in Der Freischütz. Also premiered by Baerman and Weber was the virtuosic Grand Duo Concertant, op 48, first performed in 1815, while the CD programme is completed by Mendelssohn’s three-movement Sonata in E flat of 1824, a work astonishingly not published until 1941 in New York. In addition there is a digital bonus in the shape of a three-movement Sonatina by Caroline Schleicher-Krähmer (1794-1873), the daughter of musicians who in addition to having been the first woman clarinettist to play in public also played the piano and violin professionally. The Sonatina – which includes a Waltz (ii) and Polacca (iii) is pleasing enough, if never aspiring to be more than salon music.
‘Mr Baerman does wonders on the clarinet, but he charms as much as he amazes’. These words quoted by Legault from a review published in the Gazette de France in 1818 might well with slight adjustment be applied to Maryse Legault herself. A native of Montreal, she studied with Erich Hoeprich, the father-figure of the revival of the historical clarinet. Not only does she own to an exceptional technique but equally a beautiful evenly produced tone across the range. She plays with real musicality and considerable nuance, as the slight change of dynamic in the repeated phrases in the statement of the theme the Weber variations immediately announces. The third variation of the same work demonstrates her ability to encompass a wide tessitura and virtuoso leaps, while her mezzo voce playing can be heard to ravishing effect at the end of the central movement of the composer’s Grand Duo. She seems, too, to have an exceptional rapport with her accompanist, Gili Loftus, herself evidently an outstanding fortepianist (she also plays the harpsichord and modern piano). She is especially impressive in the Mendelssohn, which needs some demanding bravura work from the keyboard player. Her instrument here is a copy of a Viennese fortepiano from 1820 and 1840 inspired by Conrad Graf and Ignaz Bösendorfer and built by Rodney J Regier of Freeport, Maine in 2000. The sound as recorded is full and rounded across the range.
An exceptional disc. well worthy of investigation by any one attracted to the historical clarinet – or indeed the exceptionally talented young performers.