Music and Vision Daily - CD Spotlight - Elegia

Great Partners
Music for clarinet and piano
GEOFF PEARCE

'This great disc will bring joy to everyone who listens to it.'
Two outstanding artists — Christopher Nichols and Julie Nishimura —
perform on this impressive disc of music for clarinet, and clarinet with
piano, most of it relatively unknown, recorded by Navona Records. For
lovers of clarinet music, it is a very interesting compilation and will, I am sure, delight most listeners.

John Cage's very early (1933) and short sonata for clarinet alone is quite virtuosic. Although not really a challenge for the listener, this is an interesting work. The slow movement is particularly beautiful and dreamy, and the last movement is a tour de force with a lot of quick grace notes and flourishes.

Aurelio Magnani's beautiful, heartfelt "Elegia" for clarinet and piano is a
romantic aria, showcasing the clarinet's beautiful vocal qualities.
Evidently it is seldom performed, so I hope that this recording helps to
secure more performances. The clarinettist plays on fully synthetic
Legere reeds. On the evidence of this performance alone, I would say
these reeds are a qualified success. He gets a great dynamic range, not a hint of harshness, and the reed always speaks on demand. The pianist is supportive where she needs to be, and is obviously a very fine accompanist indeed — a true associate artist.

Towards the end of his life, Camille Saint-Saëns composed a set of
sonatas for oboe, bassoon and clarinet. Written in 1921, they were
amongst the composer's last works. I know the oboe and bassoon
sonatas well, but did not know this one for clarinet, opus 167. The exquisite opening movement is lovely, gentle and lyrical. It is not
showy, and shows the expressive and elegiac nature of the clarinet. It
has to be performed without effort, and even the trills and runs in the
middle section are never forced or heavy. Whilst the second movement, jocular and fairly short, contains virtuosic passages, it is never flashy, and one is reminded what great partners these two artists are. The dirge-like third movement explores the clarinet's low register much more, and plays over quite a wide dynamic range. The middle section, back in the clarion register is exquisite. In perfect contrast to the previous movement, the fourth movement's
showy opening uses a lot of arpeggios and scale work, and needs a good solid technique, which the artists here certainly have. Unlike the oboe sonata, the piece doesn't end in this fashion though, but culminates in a calm reflective section, much the same as it began.

Henri Rabaud's 1901 "Solo de concours" was a required competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire. In three sections, it really exploits the possibilities of the instrument: a dramatic cadenza, then lyrical and
melodic, and a difficult and fast section ends the work with a flourish.

Kevin J Cope, not a composer I know of, is a relative newcomer, born in 1981. This solo clarinet work from 2012, "Sirocco," reflects this hot dry wind which affects a lot of Southern Europe at certain times of the year. It has its origins in North Africa and the second half of this work is more vibrant and almost jazzy. It closes quietly and a little ominously. The player has to be able to perform in a variety of moods to keep this work alive.

The extended solo from Act III of Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" brings
back the piano, and again this clarinettist's beautiful bel canto line.

The disc ends with music by Ernesto Cavallini, a clarinettist composer
from the nineteenth century. His "Adagio and Tarantella" starts with a
lovely slow tune which is really an operatic aria in conception, and this
gives way to a somewhat frenzied tarantella which shows the performers' virtuosity and characterisation. The playing here is polished, stylish and never flashy.

This great disc will bring joy to everyone who listens to it.

Copyright ©12 November 2017 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia