Saturday 21 February 2015
Saint-Saens - Septet
Weber - Clarinet Quintet Op. 34
Shostakovich - Four Waltzes
Hummel - ‘Military’ Septet
Weber started on the Quintet in Bb major, Op. 34 in 1811. In fact, he finished the Menuetto in one day on September 23, but he didn’t get around to completing the entire work until August 25, 1815, one day before the premiere performance.
The Quintet is partially chamber music, partially virtuoso concerto and partially operatic fantasy.
In the first movement, we hear a cute little introduction in the strings which gives way to a simple bouncy theme in the clarinet. But it is not long before this turns into a fast and fun romp for the clarinet. The second movement shows Weber’s operatic side with a beautifully woven fantasy that foreshadows the Weber of Der Freischütz. Weber mixes humour with a sentimental trio section in the Menuetto which plays the clarinet off against the string quartet. The final Rondo is one of the great pieces of virtuoso writing for clarinet of all time. It also features an extended passage for string quartet alone that puts the string players to the test. Just when you think there is nothing more that the clarinet can do, Weber gives us that last page. His brilliant virtuoso writing here has really never been surpassed.
Hummel responded to contemporary fashion for a military dimension in chamber music and composed his Military Septet (piano, flute, trumpet, clarinet, violin, cello and double bass). The strident trumpet is banned from the adagio and the work is a fascinating example of its time. It is a bit like having a coarse country cousin join the party! The trumpet announces its presence immediately, but then is allowed only some simple interjections. Everything is masterly when the trumpet is not playing. A beautiful, quiet Adagio, instruments blending beautifully, is followed by a rhythmic Menuetto, trumpet calls in the trio and at the playful end. The Finale is a jolly affair with a delightful later theme and a witty quiet end.