Review of "Elegia" in NACWPI Journal

Christopher Nichols, clarinet; Julie Nishimura, piano
Navona Records
Reviewed by: Danielle Woolery

Elegia features music from American, French, and Italian composers, mixing repertoire standards with lesser-known works. Christopher Nichols, clarinet, and Julie Nishimura, piano, collaborate superbly to create this well-crafted recording that was recently released on Navona Records.

Both pieces on the album written by American composers are specified for unaccompanied clarinet. John Cage’s "Sonata for Clarinet" is a brief work in three movements that was written early in the composer’s life. While the score does not indicate phrasing, dynamics, or articulation, Nichols’ musical artistry brings the notes to life and showcases his technical facility. Kevin Cope’s "Sirocco for Clarinet in A" is a jazzy work that is named for the hot wind blowing from North Africa across the Mediterranean to southern Europe. Nichols’ performance of this work in its premiere recording is marked by his subtle musical nuances and ability to play in a variety of styles.

Two standard pieces from the French clarinet repertoire are included in this album. Written during the last year of his life, Camille Saint-Saëns’ "Sonata for Clarinet and Piano," Op. 167 features virtuosic and idiomatic writing for the clarinet. Henri Rabaud’s "Solo de concours," Op. 10 was written as a required competition piece for the Paris Conservatory. Divided into three sections, this work also showcases the many facets of the instrument. Nichols and Nishimura perform both pieces expertly while conveying musically sensitive phrasing and exploiting the vast technical possibilities provided by the ensemble.

Written by Romantic Italian composer Aurelio Magnani, the title piece of the album is performed expressively and delicately by Nichols and Nishimura while they explore the bel canto style, intrinsic of 19th century Italian opera. Giuseppe Verdi’s "Andante" from "La forza del destino" is another work performed with genuine sensitivity and attention to detail. The album concludes with Ernesto Cavallini’s "Adagio and Tarantella." Known as the “Paganini of the Clarinet," Cavallini was the performer who inspired many of Verdi’s writings for the instrument, including the previously mentioned extended solo from the third act prelude of "La forza del destino." "Adagio and Tarantella" is a tour de force that showcases both virtuosic and operatic playing. Nichols’ depth of tone, musicality, and command of the instrument is enhanced by the fine playing of Nishimura.

This publication is a welcome addition to the recorded repertoire for clarinet. It includes staples of the clarinet literature interspersed with lesser-known pieces that are hidden gems of the repertoire. Christopher Nichols and Julie Nishimura perform masterfully throughout and have truly created a meaningful recording that
will serve as a model resource for students, professionals, and listeners alike.