Bernhard Crusell (1775-1838) was born in Nystad, Sweden in 1775 which, 34 years later, reverted to being the Finnish Uusikaupunki. His output consists almost exclusively of music involving the clarinet, of which he was also the leading exponent in the early decades of the 19th century. Judging by these three concertos, he followed in the footsteps of Krommer but brought the genre to the cusp of Romantic glamour, with Weber and Spohr and Hummel. He doesn’t quite scale the heights, plumb the depths or achieve that sublime “smiling through tears” quality of Mozart’s two masterpieces for the instrument.
If I had to describe this music in one word it would be companionable, greatly enhanced by Collins’ gorgeous caramel tone and leavened by his irrepressible virtuosity and sparkle (his roulades are especially winsome) but there’s also plenty of drama. I have to agree with other reviewers that the Op 5 the “first” (but probably the last composed) which has its share of minor key shadows, struck me as the most magical. All the finales are virtuoso showpieces.
The Swedish Chamber Orchestra, which Collins amazingly also conducts, are wholly up to the task, with alert and brilliant accompaniment. Collins is in distinguished company: Dame Thea King, Emma Johnson, Martin Fröst and Karl Leister (who, incredibly, joined the Berlin Philharmonic in 1938 at the age of 21 and stayed until 1993). All are recommendable.