The Lyrical Clarinet / Michael Collins

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Michael Collins has been recording for Chandos what one might call thematic ‘mood’ albums; virtuosity has been covered [CHAN10615] and here is lyricism. Burgmüller’s Duo is a single movement, but tripartite piece, dating from 1834. It assuredly lives up to the disc billing, being profusely lyric, but in its central panel cleverly evokes the operatic by means of declamatory piano statements above which the clarinet spins vocalised curlicues of decidedly virtuosic pretension. It hardly aspires to anything especially deep, but makes for a good palette refreshing opener.

Finzi’s wartime Bagatelles are a clarinet staple. Collins’s subtly coloured, variegated tone is a perfect fit. He’s rhythmically sharp in the Prelude, and elegantly relaxed in the Romance, though I have to admit I do prefer John Denman’s slightly brisker tempo. Collins however plays the Carol with disarming simplicity, the tone remaining richly rounded, and he brings a very vocalised sense to the Forlana with its echoes of the composer’s great setting of Hardy’s For Life I Had Never Cared Greatly and specifically the lines ‘Conditions of Doubt/Conditions that leaked slowly out.’

Heinrich Joseph Baermann was an elite clarinettist of his time. His Clarinet Quintet of 1821 was rediscovered in 1922 and claimed to be a very early work by Wagner. Pamela Weston has arranged the Adagio from the Quintet for clarinet and piano, and most effectively, as it’s a lovely movement, rich and warm. Paul Reade’s Suite from ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ comes from music for a TV series, and can be accompanied either by piano (as here) or harp. The five gentle scenes are atmospheric and engaging, the second (called ‘Spring’) having requisite jauntiness and the third – ‘Mists’ – just the right sense of stillness. I know Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel gets trotted out often in one of its manifold arrangements, especially when mining pathos in TV war documentaries – the Barber Adagio de nos jours – but I can certainly take the composer’s clarinet/piano version nicely. Nine minutes doesn’t seem a second too long.

And finally then to two very different French Clarinet sonatas. The Saint-Saëns was composed at the very end of his long life. It’s suffused with easy going charm and lyrical content. Collins drops to the chalumeau register in the slow movement where the piano’s rolled chords remind one very distinctly of César Franck. Collins conveys the quietude and ending-without-regret quality of this work very adeptly. The Poulenc too was a very late work, composed the year before his death and dedicated to the memory of Honegger. Again this is a convincingly argued performance. It’s a touch more measured than, say, Richard Horsfield and Ian Brown in the Nash Ensemble’s performance, but Collins and Michael McHale balance the introversion of the Romanza with the freewheeling dynamism of the finale well.

The warm recording comes courtesy of Potton Hall, an elite venue of choice for chamber recitals.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10637

  • UPC: 095115163726

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Arvo Pärt, Camille Saint-Saëns, Francis Poulenc, Gerald Finzi, Heinrich Josef Baermann, Norbert Burgmüller, Paul Reade

  • Performer: Michael Collins, Michael McHale