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Reginald Kell – The Complete American Decca Recordings
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Concerto in A major K.622 [28.49]
Clarinet Quintet in A major K581 [30.22]
Wind Serenade in C minor K388 (384a) [19.29]
Wind Serenade in E flat major K. 375 [22.43]
Clarinet Trio in E flat major K498 Kegelstatt Trio [20.34]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Clarinet Trio in B flat major Op.11 Gassenhauer Trio [18.35]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke Op.73 [10.23]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Grand Duo Concertante Op.48 [18.21]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op.115 [35.37]
Trio for clarinet, cello and piano Op.114 [23.52]
Sonata for clarinet and piano in F minor Op.120 No.1 [20.57]
Sonata for clarinet and piano in E flat major Op.120 No.2 [20.07]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Clarinet Sonata in E flat major Op.167 [18.41]
Alec TEMPLETON (1909-1963)
Pocket-size sonata No.1 for clarinet and piano (1949) [7.36]
Antoni SZALOWSKI (1907-1973)
Sonatina for clarinet and piano (1936) [10.34]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Premičre Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano [8.07] La Plus que Lente [2.42] La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin [2.29] Ręverie [2.45]
Le Petit Berger [2.22]
Walter MOURANT (1910-1955)
Ecstasy [4.05] The Pied Piper [4.00] Blue Haze [3.22]
Reginald PORTER-BROWN (1910-1982)
Dance of the Three Old Maids [2.54]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Clarinet Sonata in B flat (1939) [16.30]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet [6.32]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Contrasts [17.44]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Suite Op.157b (1936) [10.51]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Six Studies in English Folksong [9.10]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Siciliana and Gigue – from Recorder Sonata in F major HWV 369 transcribed by Reginald Kell [3.49]
Adagio – from Violin Sonata in F major HWV 370 transcribed by Reginald Kell [3.36]
Allegro – from Oboe Sonata in F major HWV 363a transcribed by Reginald Kell [2.44]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Giga – from Recorder Sonata in C major Op.5 No.9 [3.06]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Rondo on a Theme by Beethoven [3.21] Caprice Viennois Op.2 [4.05] Liebesleid [3.46] Liebesfreud [3.29] Stars in My Eyes – from the film The King Steps Out [2.43] Schön Rosmarin [2.05]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pičce en forme de habanera [3.21]
Alan RICHARDSON (1904-1978)
Roundelay [3.41]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
Berceuse from Jocelyn [5.23]
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Jamaican Rumba [2.42]
Reginald Kell (clarinet) with
Zimbler Sinfonietta – Mozart Clarinet Concerto; Fine Arts String Quartet – Mozart and Brahms; Kell Chamber Players – Mozart Serenades; Frank Miller (cello) and Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano) – Beethoven and Brahms Trios; Joel Rosen (piano) – Schumann, Brahms Sonatas, Weber, Debussy Rapsodie, Hindemith; Brooks Smith (piano) – Saint-Saëns, Templeton, Szalowski, Vaughan Williams, Handel, Corelli, Richardson, Godard, Benjamin; Melvin Ritter (violin) and Joel Rosen – Bartók, Milhaud; Camerata and his Orchestra – Debussy, Mourant, Porter-Brown, Kreisler 
Recorded 1950-57
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON ORIGINAL MASTERS 00289 477 5280 [6 CDs: 79.02 + 73.24 + 78.07 + 76.54 + 75.06 + 70.15]

 

Some of Reginald Kell’s English Columbia recordings have been re-released by Testament but this is the first significant collection of a body of his discs to have been released for very many years. It collates the American Deccas in discs set down on LP between 1950 and 1957 and thus enshrines the last studio performances made by one of the greatest wind players of the twentieth century, a revolutionary in tone production and a consummate soloist, chamber and orchestral player – not forgetting his far reaching influence on his students, one of whom incidentally was Benny Goodman.

The six discs are well filled, the discographic details are complete with dates and original release dates intact, and the notes are succinct and translated into French and German. Doubtless those yet to have become enslaved by Kell would wish for more concrete and extensive analysis of style and of these particular performances but I dare say the ear, innocent or otherwise, will accustom itself to his stylistic and tonal particularities.   

As many will know Kell re-recorded some of his repertoire. Not only did he revisit previous scenes of 78 triumph (such as the Mozart Concerto and Quintet) but he returned to things such as the Brahms Sonatas twice over whilst in America. So it’s as well to note that his Mercury recordings of those two sonatas with Horszowski are not here; the Deccas were with a frequent collaborator, Joel Rosen. Also it’s as well to distinguish between the Fine Arts recordings; these are the earlier traversals of material they returned to a few years later.

Nevertheless what we have is special. No, the Mozart Concerto in no way replaces the vitality and crispness of the Sargent conducted English Columbia. With the Zimbler Sinfonietta we have a rather patrician plod despite the band sporting such as Joseph de Pasquale in the three man viola section and Samuel Mayes in the cellos. Anyway this was always an ill balanced recording with the band far too recessed and there’s nothing much to be done with it now. The Quintet was recorded in 1951 with the Fine Arts, a distinguished group who never really scaled the heights. Tempi are relaxed, there’s an avoidance of portamenti from the string players and textures are aerated. Kell is highly impressive but those who know his 1945 Philharmonia Quartet Columbia will appreciate that this American Decca can’t be considered in any sense superior. The English quartet plays with far greater character and colour and evokes a richer patina of tonal variety, and Kell is more affecting throughout. The Serenades are directed by Kell as conductor of his Chamber Players and they are pleasing, maybe too pleasingly indulged, examples of Kell’s direction.

It’s not universally the case that the earlier English Columbias are preferable to the later American Deccas, though that’s the impression given by his Mozart recordings. So, it must be said, his 1944 Beethoven trio seems to me significantly preferable to this re-make of 1950, even given the relative improvement in sound quality. And even with two titans such as Horszowski and cellist Frank Miller to keep him company. The Kell-Pini-Kentner Columbia simply has more zip. There’s rather a resonant recording acoustic for Kell’s meeting with violist Lillian Fuchs and Horszowski for the Mozart trio; some may not care for the overly pomposo Menuetto and might wish the last movement moved on a bit more. The second disc ends with his famed Schumann Fantasiestücke. His earlier recording with Gerald Moore was excellent but this one, again with Joel Rosen, could be even be finer – the liquid legato and lyricism is accompanied by the highest feeling. 

The third disc features a superb Weber Grand Duo. He’d recorded the Concertino with Walter Goehr (on Testament) but I think the Duo was new to his discography when he set it down in 1953. Try the slow movement to hear how a master colourist shades his tone and to enjoy the rapport with Rosen. Kell’s most famous recording of the Brahms Quintet was with the Busch, pre-War and I don’t think his Fine Arts traversal of 1951 really challenges it. It’s cooler, as are the string players, and inclined to dawdle. It’s a completely different kind of performance to that now unearthed by Testament of Kell’s distinguished English colleague Jack Thurston, who recorded it in 1941 (though not issued at the time) with the Griller Quartet. Thurston keeps to a relatively fast introductory tempo, then almost unheard of, and his finale is much more incisive than Kell’s. The same composer’s A minor Trio was recorded with Miller and Horszowski in 1950. The earlier Kell-Pini-Kentner 1941 Columbia was consistently fleeter in the first two movements whilst Miller’s tone sometimes takes on a rather odd rawness. Fans of such things can also hear up-close-and-personal sounds of Kell’s keys in action.

The fourth disc is a sonata one; the two Brahms sonatas were re-recorded later with Horszowski for Mercury but the Rosen readings are rather swifter. There’s vocalised warmth in the slow movement of the F minor and the Allegro amabile of the E flat major is perfectly suited to Kell’s lyric directness. He finds real vivacity and wit in the Saint-Saëns, revelling in its quasi-operatic curlicues but also brings solemn breadth to its slow movement, his upper register crystalline and under perfect control. The finale has splendid trills and great warmth, the luscious melody toward the end brought out with the finesse of a master. Fellow “Briton Abroad” Alec Templeton wrote a “Pocket-size Sonata” in 1949 and it’s certainly that – full of wistful drifting, modal blues and laid back charm, and ending with a Broadway rouser of a finale. Szalowski’s 1936 Sonatina is a perky, smart piece, It has Gallic insouciance a-plenty but also sports a withdrawn Larghetto and a virtuosic finale and is well worth  getting to know – all ten minutes of it.

Disc five offers some alternately brittle and syrupy fare. The dramatic and lissom patina of the Debussy Rhapsodie is expertly delineated and the Hindemith, a very approachable sonata, works exceptionally well here with Kell and Rosen responding to its perky expressivity without demur. If the Bartók Contrasts isn’t quite as successful it certainly doesn’t stint on some of the zest – amazing to remember the days when this was written off as a disagreeable and grumpy work. Kell had played the Stravinsky Three Pieces to the composer in 1934 and his 1951 recording is a testament to his mastery of them; no wonder Stravinsky had inscribed Kell’s copy for him, a reproduction of which forms one of the several splendid photographs in the booklet. With Camarata Kell lets down his hair a little; his Debussy is a touch treacly with all those souped up strings but I enjoyed the warm and grave Mourant pieces. 

The final disc is a most entertaining catch-all one. Milhaud is in bouncy jazz mode, loping languidly in his finale to excellent effect. The VW is a late recording, May 1957, but features Kell’s generously wide lower register and in the Lento something of Leon Goossens’ oboe tone at the top most register. As ever the lyricism is superbly delineated and evoked. The Handel pieces are in his own transcriptions and one can hear those constant changes in colour and articulation best in the Gigue. He also essayed some Kreisler but takes the Beethoven Rondino very slowly, far more slowly than a violinist would and he should have known, having started on the violin as a boy. His Ravel is evocative, the Arthur Benjamin very laid back – this was how he habitually took it apparently  - and the Camarata-accompanied Kreisler group rather subjected to syrupy arrangements. Schön Rosmarin is the pick – luscious – whilst Liebesleid is a bit too cautious.

Many of these represent first ever CD incarnations, things that haven’t seen the light of day since their 1950s LP incarnations. It’s a splendid survey, finely transferred, well illustrated and also sporting some of the clarinettist’s modernist and idiosyncratically musical paintings – a touch of Miró maybe for the colourist supreme.

Jonathan Woolf 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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