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Corigliano: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra: 3.Antiphonal Toccata 2564 61952-2

John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938)
Clarinet Concerto (1977)a [28:51]
ZHOU Long (b. 1953)

The Immortal (2004)b [12:51]
Kaija SAARIAHO (b. 1952)

Orion (2002)c [23:07]
Michael Collins (clarinet)a
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkinab, Jukka-Pekka Sarastec
Rec. (live) Royal Albert Hall, July 2004 (Zhou Long); Sept 2004 (Corigliano, Saariaho)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61952-2 [64:51]

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Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto may be one of his most popular works, at least on record. Stanley Drucker, its dedicatee and long-time principal clarinettist of the New York Philharmonic in which Corigliano’s father also served as concertmaster for many years, recorded it several years ago. The NYPO was conducted by Zubin Mehta (New World NW 309-2). Another recording by Richard Stoltzman with the LSO conducted by Lawrence Leighton Smith was – and may still be – available on RCA RD 87762. The present performance by Michael Collins was recorded during the Proms 2004. The work is in three movements, of which the first, Cadenzas, is somewhat unusual. It consists of two contrasted accompanied cadenzas separated by a short, energetic interlude. The second movement Elegy, in memory of the composer’s father, is the weightiest and the most deeply felt of the whole work. "I still find it hard to think of the orchestra [NYPO] without him [Corigliano’s father] sitting in the first chair" (the composer’s words). The movement includes several duos for the soloist and the leader. The third movement Antiphonal Toccata fully lives up to its title, and is bustling and energetic bringing the work to a jubilant conclusion. Corigliano’s music is often overtly – and deliberately – eclectic, except when the composer manages to keep his muse under control, as he brilliantly does in his imposing and very satisfying Symphony No.2 for strings. The Clarinet Concerto is no exception. Corigliano’s sincerity and will to communicate as directly as possible are never in doubt, which is why audiences generally react with enthusiasm to performances. Michael Collins plays superbly and gets fine support from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Slatkin.

Zhou Long’s The Immortal, first performed during the 2004 Proms, is another fine example of this endearing composer’s music. The piece was written as a tribute to contemporary Chinese artists and intellectuals who firmly stuck to their ideals, especially during the intellectually bleak years of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. It is also a good example of Zhou Long’s ability to reconcile Western and Eastern musical traditions without falling into all-too-easy picturesqueness. This beautiful piece is no exception.

Over the last few years, Saariaho’s music has acquired a new sensuality that has considerably enriched her expressive palette without lessening her technical and formal grip on the material. Orion is her largest orchestral piece so far, and one that also dispenses with electronics. That Saariaho can write for large orchestral forces has already been fully demonstrated in her impressive diptych Du cristal (1989/90) and ...à la fumée (1990). Thus, the orchestral mastery displayed in Orion does not come as a surprise. The main difference is a greater refinement in her handling of the orchestra. Orion opens in indeterminacy, with amorphous sound clouds out of which an expansive string melody unfolds supported by insistent rhythms in the woodwinds. The music builds up to a massive climax abruptly cut short. The central section Winter Sky is a beautiful impressionistic nocturne, and – to my mind – contains some of the loveliest and most atmospheric music that Saariaho ever penned. All through this movement, I could not help thinking of Robert Bridges’ words ("A frosty Christmas night, and the bright stars shining..."). The final section Hunter is for the most part a study in perpetual motion. In the coda, the pace increases whereas textures become thinner; and the music swiftly dissolves into thin air, high up in the sky, where Orion assumes its fixed position.

All three pieces receive excellent performances; and make up an attractive and varied programme of accessible music fully repaying repeated hearings. The recorded sound is very fine, with very few of the unwanted noises that often mar live recordings. I hope that Warner will continue releasing similar recordings made either during the Proms or during the Ars Musica festival in Brussels.

Hubert Culot

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