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Brilliant Classics

The Classical Clarinet
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Première rapsodie for Clarinet and Piano
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Sonata in E flat major Op 167 for Clarinet and Piano
Henri BÜSSER (1872-1973)

Pastorale Op 46
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Three pieces for clarinet solo
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano
Malcolm ARNOLD (b. 1921)

Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Grand Duo Concertante Op 48
Harald GENZMER (b. 1909)

Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Fantasiestücke Op 73 for clarinet and piano
Alban BERG (1885-1935)

Vier Stücke Op 5
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Sonata in E flat major for clarinet and piano
Henk de Graaf (clarinet)
Daniel Wayenberg (piano)
Recorded Reformed Church Soest, June and November 2001
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92219 [2 CDs: 67.11 + 73.00]

An interesting, potentially misleading title for this Brilliant double. If you were expecting two hours of Mozart, Stamitz and the sundry Bohemian exponents of the classical clarinet tradition you’d be in for a long wait. The farthest back we go is to Weber and we stretch forward as far as Malcolm Arnold. So maybe it’s classical as distinct from jazz, even though Arnold, as we all know, loves his Armstrong and wrote for Goodman.

The compositions are grouped along rough stylistic and geographical lines; first Poulenc and Debussy then Saint-Saëns and Büsser; following them the neo-classicism of Stravinsky, the typical motor rhythms of Martinů and some succinct and joyful Arnold. The second disc is an all-Germanic affair. The recording level is generally good but there are occasions during the course of these performances when the piano is too backwardly balanced and this can obscure some important lines and harmonies. The effect is by no means consistent though and shouldn’t impair your enjoyment.

De Graaf is a well-known clarinettist and Wayenberg’s name may well register with collectors because of preserved performances with Karel Ančerl in Amsterdam. Their ensemble is most effective and the sense of chamber compatibility never slackens or weakens. In the Poulenc they have the measure of much of its affectionate playfulness and emerge unscathed from the Allegro con fuoco minefield, even if memories of, say, de Peyer are not effaced in the slow movement. They are fluid and convincing in the Debussy – a piece more normally found in the garb of its orchestral arrangement. Saint-Saëns’ Sonata should get regular airings in the chamber recital hall. As he shows in his string sonatas he is the master of mood and texture. The opening movement is a charmingly relaxed Allegretto and the slow movement opens with portentous gravity and rolled chords (not unlike Franck’s in his piano works) before lightening. And how tactful and well judged of the composer to end with another Allegretto – no hi jinks and flourish for Saint-Saëns, just a musically sagacious arch. Henri Büsser is probably better known as a conductor for French Pathé – I’ve recently reviewed his Manon on Malibran. As a conductor he took things there at a fair old lick; as a composer his short Pastorale has some almost quasi-operatic moments amidst the dapple. Stravinsky’s Three Pieces are wittily and pithily played – especially the Vivacissimo finale, which fizzes by. Martinů can do no wrong in my book and the duo does well by him; I just wish they’d screwed up the tension and the tempo slightly in the opening movement of his Sonatine. The first disc closes with some delicious Arnold, full of his quick act change from intensity to humour.

The duo commands the style for Weber’s Grand Duo Concertante and they’re especially good at observing the con moto marking in the slow movement, which emerges as a result strengthened not diminished. Harald Genzmer was greatly influenced by Hindemith, and was one of his best pupils in Berlin. His Sonatine is unaffected and unpretentious and unfortunately undated as well. But in its lyricism and its marching neo-classicism it adheres to certain established norms. It can be mordant but always with an airy classical lightness running through it. The Andante for instance is songful but not over simplified, with some pert piano pointing. The Schumann pieces are standards of the repertoire but the Berg presents an even tougher challenge – I like the way they extract real lyricism from these concisely and densely packed pieces – and also how exuberantly they play the eruptive drama of the slow final piece – and how well they control it. Finally there’s the Mendelssohn. From its long opening movement – full of hymnal depth – to the Song without Words Andante this is a delectable work. They play the slow Andante especially well, colouring it across the range and phrasing unselfconsciously.

Maybe this seems a somewhat quirky selection but the repertoire does actually make a deal of sense. Inexpensive and neatly packaged with some pertinent notes it also enjoys convincing playing.

Jonathan Woolf

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