To launch Clarinet Month, editors Elisabeth and Mark, both clarinettists, have argued and tussled to come up with their top ten concertos. While there was no surprise – or disagreement – in their gold medal placing, debate raged fiercely elsewhere before amicable compromises were reached. So enjoy their playlist of top ten clarinet concertos in fine performances.

1 Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622

The Mozart concerto – what else is there to say other than, we adore it! And so do all clarinettists. The subtleness of each movement, the deeply moving Adagio and cheerful Rondo – simply lean back, listen to Martin Fröst and enjoy! [Elisabeth]

You can read more about the concerto here.

 

2 Weber: Clarinet Concerto no. 1 in F minor, Op.73 

Written for the great Heinrich Baermann in 1811, Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto is an excellent showpiece. The opening movement has a lengthy, dramatic orchestral introduction before the clarinet steals in, eventually breaking into virtuosic display. The other two movements are pure opera – an Adagio with a lyrical cantabile line and a rollicking finale with soprano trills and frequent descents into the instrument’s chalumeau (bass) register.  [Mark]

Here is Andreas Ottensamer with the Shanghai Symphony (Ignore the Youtube labelling which maintains it’s Weber’s 2nd)

 

3 Copland: Clarinet Concerto

Benny Goodman himself commissioned Aaron Copland to write him a clarinet concerto in 1947. I first saw it played by Martin Fröst with the Tonkünstler Orchestra a few years back at the Musikverein Wien, immediately falling in love with it. The bittersweet, meditative first movement, the transitional solo cadenza and the technically challenging second movement – as a clarinettist it’s actually quite reassuring that even Goodman had to make a few changes to the score before the première – with its jazzy elements makes it one of the most exciting concertos. And my LP recording of Benny Goodman with the New York Philharmonic – Aaron Copland is conducting! – is my go-to recording if I’m in need of some practice motivation. [Elisabeth]

 

 

4 Nielsen: Clarinet Concerto

The most influential clarinet concerto of the 20th century for others to follow is the Nielsen concerto. The Danish composer abandoned classical concerto form for his Clarinet Concerto which he composed after hearing the Copenhagen Wind Quintet in 1921. It consists of one long movement, with four thematic groups. Full of mood swings, technical solo passages and a very present snare drum, it is probably the stormiest concerto in our list.

 

5 Hillborg: Clarinet Concerto “Peacock Tales”

Anders Hillborg’s Peacock Tales is more than a clarinet concerto – it’s a piece which demands to be seen as well as heard. I vividly remember Martin Fröst’s performance at the 2008 BBC Proms, the indefatigable soloist having to don a white mask at times (presumably to mimic the bird) and engage in mime and dance choreography. It’s a score that ranges from lyrical to bluesy glissandos to hard-edged modernity. There are opportunities for the soloist to ad lib, where Fröst throws in a cheeky quote from Puccini’s Tosca (at 5’53”). [Mark]

 

 

6 Finzi: Clarinet Concerto

Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto is the finest in the English repertoire. It was premiered by Frederick Thurston in 1949. The first movement opens with vigorous, argumentative strings before the clarinet responds in lyrical manner. I love the mellow, almost Brahmsian quality to the rhapsodic slow movement and the rondo finale is a joyous affair until – in what Michael Kennedy termed “a misty nostalgia” – Finzi reintroduces the theme from the first movement. Nevertheless, the concerto ends with an impetuous flourish. 

Here, it is played by Michael Collins, who studied with Dame Thea King (Thurston’s widow). Both of my clarinet teachers also studied with King, so I've always felt a connection to Finzi's music. [Mark]

 

7 Krommer: Clarinet Concerto in E flat major, Op.36

At Franz Krommer’s peak, his fame ran alongside the likes of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and there’s little doubt that had his lyrical Clarinet Concerto been published under one of these other illustrious names, it would be acclaimed much higher than it is today. Published in 1803, it follows the classical model, with a long, engaging first movement containing a double exposition. The Adagio has a plaintive solo line while the finale skips along joyously, entirely untroubled. Krommer – a violinist himself – clearly loved writing for woodwinds, also composing two double clarinet concertos, one of which features in a recurring nightmare in Vienna’s Musikverein... but that’s another story! [Mark]

And here's a clip of the finale of the first Krommer double concerto: 

 

8 Mendelssohn: Konzertstück no. 2 in D minor, Op.114

I had to fight for this one! Is it really a concerto, being called a Konzerstück (Concert Piece)? Is it long enough for a concerto? But it was eventually allowed on the list, maybe because we could then include this nice dumpling story: Mendelssohn was asked by the clarinettist Heinrich Baermann –  well known for his skills in the kitchen – to write a piece for him and his son Carl. Mendelssohn agreed, wrote the Konzertstück no. 1 in F major, Op.113 and was awarded with dumplings and Strudel. The next year, the exchange was repeated and the Second Concert Piece followed... with more dumplings for Mendelssohn!

It was one of the first “big” concertos I played at concerts and competitions and it is therefore very close to my heart. The two soloists (clarinet and basset horn) start with a agitated Presto – for some reason Baermann included four quite unnecessary opening bars in his orchestration. In the Andante the players alternate in forming a lyrical line, before they whirl around in the Allegro grazioso. [Elisabeth]

 

9 Carl Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto no. 7 in E flat major

Another concerto I had to fight for – someone might have accused me of only choosing it, so I can add another video of Andreas Ottensamer. But, at least for an Austrian clarinettist, there is no way around Stamitz. Every student has to play one of the 11(!) clarinet concertos at some point in their musical career. Carl Stamitz’ concertos – most of them written for his friend, the Bohemian clarinet virtuoso Johann Joseph Beer – drew other composers’ interest to the clarinet (even before Mozart) and we probably have to thank him for the clarinet developing into such a prominent solo instrument. The Concerto no. 7 does not only include elegant solo sections, but the orchestra is entrusted with important thematic material as well, for example in the opening of the Adagio when the clarinet is holding a long note, while the strings play the principal theme. [Elisabeth]

And here is the promised clip with Andreas Ottensamer:

 

 

10 Crusell: Clarinet Concerto no. 2 in F minor

Here’s another concerto that nods to Beethoven’s influence. Bernhard Crusell’s Second Clarinet Concerto was dedicated to Alexander I of Russia after the composer’s visit to St Petersburg. The dark, agitated opening is very Beethovenian, softening with the arrival of the clarinet. The tender pastorale middle movement is my favourite, while the finale is boisterously high-spirited. [Mark]