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A Year In Paris
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Clarinet Sonata (1962) [14.44] 
John CARMICHAEL (b.1930)
Pastorale (2002) [3.13]
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Le Tombeau de Ravel – Valse-Caprices (1958) [14.02]
Louis CAHUZAC (1880-1931)
Pastorale Cévenole [5.32]
Cantilène [5.07]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Les pas sur la neige [arranged from Preludes 1910-13 edited Prorvich] [3.46]
Paul STANHOPE (b.1969)
Phospheric Variations [4.40]
Colin BRUMBY (b.1933)
Danza [2.08]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Tema con Variazioni [8.53]
Nicole Canham (clarinet)
Anthony Smith (piano)
rec. Move Records Studio, Eaglemont, Victoria, October 2004
MOVE MCD 288 [63.08]
Nicole Canham is the arranger I commended in her role as clarinetist in the quartet Clarity. That foursome has a light-hearted but not frivolous approach to the repertoire. Here, with adroit pianist Anthony Smith, Canham shows her mettle on the clarinet, her first study. She studied in Paris so it’s fitting that she should essay this Francophile-oriented disc. In the main it abjures the comfortable and the familiar.

That said we begin with the Poulenc, a work that clarinettists have hardly avoided. I’m not sure what Professor Cuper told her about it at the Versailles Conservatoire but this is an unusually relaxed reading. It makes a striking contrast to the Nash Ensemble, say, whose Richard Horsford and Ian Brown, are altogether snappier, quixotic and much faster. The question of tempo is relevant inasmuch as it changes the character of the piece. In Canham and Smith’s hands it’s a more becalmed, introverted and rather overtly romanticised piece ... and not just in the Romanza. If you prefer your Poulenc driven at speed and mercurial you may find this performance a mite too relaxed.

The Anglo-Australian - technically, chronologically that should be the other way around – he holds dual nationality - John Carmichael studied with fellow Australian Arthur Benjamin as well as Anthony Milner. He also studied in Paris with that superb pianist Marcel Ciampi. The 2002 Pastorale was written for another Anglo-Australian, Malcolm Williamson. As with almost everything I’ve heard of Carmichael’s music – he has written a delectable Trumpet Concerto as well as a lot of chamber and instrumental music – this tiny Pastorale is broadly traditional and has Finzi longings; and is a treat.  It’s appropriate to follow the pupil with his Master, Benjamin. The Tombeau exists in versions for viola and also clarinet. It’s an elegantly sinuous opus and an apt tribute to Ravel written two years before Benjamin’s death. Written in the form of valse-caprices and multi-sectional they combine plangent lyricism with quirky rhythmic games in the finale – and excellent opportunities for registral changes.

Cahuzac was one of the great clarinettists, a lion of the French School and his two mood pieces reflect total immersion in technical matters, timbral niceties and breath control. Especially seductive is the languorous fantasia evoked in his Pastorale Cévenole. Another link brings us to Debussy’s Les pas sur la neige as Cahuzac famously premiered Debussy’s Première Rhapsody with the composer at the piano. And Françaix’s Tema con variazioni shows what a demanding conservatoire test-piece can sound like though, also, how seductive it can be made to sound when romantic subtlety, velvet warmth and Pigalle frolics are written into it. The cadenza is appropriately freewheeling. Finally we have two non-French pieces. Brumby’s Danza is all too short – but very aerial and jolly – and Stanhope’s Phospheric Variations, written over a Purcellian ground bass, is a pleasurable opportunity for some bracing colour.

 The attractive recording quality is complemented by notes and a repertoire that may well appeal. Let’s see what Canham can do with Finzi next.

 Jonathan Woolf




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