Martin Fröst presents an interesting program of Nordic clarinet concertos that covers a lot of ground with just four works. The two contemporary works were composed for Fröst and differ greatly in style. The two older works call out important Nordic composers, and also differ in style.
Anders Hillborg’s 1998 Clarinet Concerto (Peacock Tales) is a multi-media performance piece, though it works well as strictly audio experience. Drama and contrast are what Hillborg’s work is all about, from the extended cadenza for solo clarinet that opens the work through the rousing fun-house mirror jazz of the finale.
On a Distant Shore by Karin Rehnqvist takes a different approach. In this 2002 work, the clarinet and ensemble are two parts of the whole, working together. The work moves slowly through time, notes suspended in space. Towards the end the piece picks up, with bent notes moving into an animated section. Melody and harmony hop around like twittering birds, fast-moving yet ethereal.
Vagn Holmboe died just two years before Hillborg’s concert was written, his neo-classical style makes his music seem much older. Holmboe, like Hindemith, developed his own tonal vocabulary that he consistently used throughout his career. In fact, his 1942 Concerto No. 3, Op. 21 reminded me very strongly of Hindemith, with perhaps a trace of Martinů and Bartók.
Clarinetist and composer Bernhard Crussell was active in the early part of the 19th Century. His 1830 Introduction, Theme and Variations on a Swedish Air, Op. 124 compares favorably to similar works by Weber. It may the slightest work on the program, but it does make a satisfying conclusion to it.
Martin Fröst shifts easily from work to work, playing each in a manner entirely appropriate to the style. Although he plays nimbly, though with very controlled tone. Even hopping around in the extreme high register (as it often has to do in the Hillborg), the clarinet’s tone still sounded round and full, never shrill or screechy.
For those who are interested in discovering the full potential of the clarinet as a solo instrument, Nordic Concertos is an ideal place to start.
Nordic Concertos: Martin Fröst, clarinet
Music by Anders Hillborg; Vagn Holmboe; Karin Rehnquist; Bernhard Crusell
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen; Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Owain Arwel Hughes; Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Petter Sundkvist; Östgöta Symphony Wind Ensemble, Arie van Beek