Review of "Elegia" by "Review Graveyard"

Clarinetist Christopher Nichols makes his PARMA and Navona Records debut with Elegia, a compilation of Italian, French, and American clarinet works spanning two centuries. These works include repertoire standards, little-recorded rarities, and recent music from contemporary composer Kevin Cope. Collaborative pianist Julie Nishimura joins Nichols for these recordings...

If you like your classical music heavy on the clarinet... then you're in for a treat with Navona's latest release, Elegia. Over the course of these 7 works (12 tracks - 53 min, 08 sec) Christopher Nichols performs some classic as well as more modern pieces which centre on the clarinet. He is accompanied, in places, by Julie Nishimura on piano.
Among the widely-known works featured on the album is the operatic and energetic 'Adagio' and 'Tarentella' by Ernesto Cavallini, a clarinetist/composer known in Italy as “the Paganini of the clarinet." As the principal clarinetist at Milan’s La Scala opera house, Cavallini’s virtuosity caught the attention of Giuseppe Verdi, who was moved to write the lyrical 'Andante' for clarinet in act three of his opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) - a piece also included on this release.

Nichols also features a favourite recital piece, 'Elegia'. Composed by Aurelio Magnani, another Italian clarinetist/composer, the work is little known and rarely recorded.

Two French staples are included as well: Henri Rabaud’s 1901 'Solo de concours, Op. 10' and Camille Saint-Saëns’s 'Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 167'. Each work is divided into contrasting sections or movements, thus displaying the clarinet’s wide-ranging sound in different contexts.

The album’s two American works are both for unaccompanied clarinet. John Cage’s rarely heard, early 'Sonata for Clarinet' is a challenging work: at its premiere in 1933, the clarinetist refused to play it, forcing the composer to play it with one finger at the piano.

Kevin Cope’s 2012 piece 'Sirocco' rounds out the album. The word “sirocco" refers to a desert wind that blows around the Mediterranean coastline, evoked in the piece by wandering tonality and blending of different musical styles.

This is a beautifully performed collection of pieces that should whet your appetite to seek out further pieces by the composers. Personally, 'Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 167 - Allegretto' was the stand out highlight of this album.

- Darren Rea