We owe much of the clarinet repertoire to great composers meeting with great clarinettists. Thus we have Mozart and Anton Stadler, Brahms and Richard Mühlfeld and Weber and Heinrich Bärmann. Weber wrote several works for Bärmann, who played in the Court Orchestra at Munich, where Weber in his role as conductor met him and fell for the warmth and richness of his playing as well as his spellbinding virtuosity. In the early nineteenth century the clarinet was being rapidly developed and Bärmann played a special ten-key clarinet made for him by Griesling and Schott. In the period 1811-16 Weber wrote six substantial works for Bärmann. The Quintet was written in instalments over four years, movement by movement, and as soon as Weber finally finished the last movement, Bärmann premiered it the very next day.
The work opens with fifteen bars of slow introduction for the strings alone before the clarinet’s entry ushers in the main Allegro with its two bewitching themes. Both themes show a fondness for lilting dotted rhythms and both continue with passage work for the clarinet that is virtuosic rather than purely melodic. Clearly Weber was more concerned at displaying the qualities of Bärmann’s playing rather than with writing a work of intimate chamber music such as Mozart and Brahms both wrote. The movement closes with a sudden display of seriousness in an intense and strongly worked coda.
The G minor Adagio is entitled Fantasia and here the cello is given the privilege of introducing the clarinet’s gloriously rhapsodic aria. The movement’s progression is twice interrupted to electrical effect by the clarinet’s twofold chromatic scales – first fortissimo then pianissimo possibile. The sparkling Scherzo takes off in great style with a rocketing figure in the clarinet, wittily answered by chugging strings and much play is made of this idea with the addition of cross-rhythms and clever syncopations. The legato Trio returns us to the lyricism of the slow movement with the strings allowed some brief moments in the limelight before the clarinet picks up the disarming melody. However the Scherzo soon returns and the mood is gone. The finale is a breezy rondo replete with good tunes and with a relentless rhythmic drive. As in the coda of the first movement, there is a brief suggestion of more serious matters in the development, but this is only a momentary aberration and the clarinet soon resumes its carefree course, concluding with yet another stunning virtuoso performance.