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Sabine Meyer - French clarinet works
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Sonata for clarinet and piano in E flat major, Op. 167 (1921) [15:26]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op. 184 (1959-62) [14:03]
François DEVIENNE (1759-1803)
Sonata No. 1 in C major for clarinet and piano, (c. 1790s)
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Scaramouche (arranged for clarinet and piano in 1941)
(clarinet), Oleg Maisenberg (piano)
rec. 26-28 September 2006, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD
3 79787 2 [56:12]
This is a valuable disc of four works from
the French clarinet and piano repertoire.
In 1921, the last year of his life, Saint-Saëns set out to compose
sonatas for each of the main woodwind instruments and piano.
Those for cor anglais and flute were never written, but he
did produce sonatas for oboe, clarinet and bassoon. In the Clarinet
Sonata Op. 167 one is in awe of the composer’s ability
to write such attractive and varied music and of such impeccable
character. It seems that, sadly, he never had the opportunity
to hear the work performed.
The opening movement Allegretto is lyrical and engaging and
the Allegro animato is performed with exuberance and
playfulness. The Lento has a funereal, almost martial
character with a repeated motif for Maisenberg between 1:32-1:59.
Meyer has considerable opportunity for virtuoso display in
the vigorous and brisk Molto allegro. The work concludes
with a sad lament.
This account of the Saint-Saëns Clarinet Sonata now becomes the
benchmark, however, I am also fond of the fresh and invigorating
from Richard Hosford and Ian Brown (piano). The double set
of Saint-Saëns chamber music from members of the Nash Ensemble
was superbly recorded in 2004 at the Henry Wood Hall, London
CDA67431-32 (Septet, Op 65; Tarentelle for
flute, clarinet and piano, Op 6; Bassoon Sonata, Op 168;
Piano Quartet, Op 41; Piano Quintet, Op 14; Oboe Sonata,
Op 166 and Caprice sur des airs danois et russes for
piano, flute, oboe and clarinet, Op 79).
Poulenc commenced his Clarinet Sonata in 1959 and completed
it in 1962; appending the dedication, “to the memory of
Arthur Honegger.” It was premièred in New York in 1963,
the year of his death. Poulenc must have admired the clarinet
greatly as he had previously written both a Sonata for 2
Clarinets, Op. 7 (1918/1945) and also a Sonata for Clarinet
and Bassoon, Op. 32 (1922/1945).
The opening movement, marked Allegro tristamente is frequently
discordant and may appear slightly puzzling to some ears.
Matters soon smooth out with the appearance of a number of
appealing melodies. The Romanza is apparently based
on music from his dramatic three act opera Dialogues des
Carmélites (1957). The movement is initially unsettling
before finding a tender lament in lyrical vein. I enjoyed
the raucous high spirits of the finale, Allegro
con fuoco described by Roger Nichols as, “an orgy
of frivolity and naïve joy”.
Meyer and Maisenberg perform with much credit in the Poulenc yet I
remain extremely fond of the version from Ronald Van Spaendonck
and pianist Alexandre Tharaud for their songfulness and impressive
control. Their performance is included in the valuable second
volume of the complete Poulenc chamber music that was excellently
recorded at the Temple du Bon Secours in Paris, 1995-97 on
The least known work on this issue is François
Devienne’s Clarinet Sonata No. 1. Devienne,
a name unknown to me, lived in France in the late eighteenth
century, a versatile woodwind player and teacher who also
composed in many genres including twelve operas. Little seems
to be known about this work but it is highly attractive.
One notices that the piano is a more equal partner for the
clarinet than in many works in the genre. The opening Allegro
con spiritoso reflects an easygoing
and cheerful disposition whilst the sorrowful central Adagio carries
a feeling of considerable grief and yearning. One welcomes
the carefree Rondo allegretto that closes the score
in an amusing and playful manner.
Scaramouche is a three movement suite
for two pianos that Milhaud wrote in response to a 1937 commission.
It uses material from his incidental music to the Molière
comedy Le Médecin volant, Op.165. The score is suffused
with Latin-American rhythms and to capitalise on its popularity
Milhaud made arrangements for other combinations of instruments;
most notably a version for saxophone and orchestra. The present
arrangement was made, it seems, in 1941. I especially enjoyed
the opening movement, marked Vif, which is zany, quirky
and bracingly robust. The calm and relaxing Modéré has
an exceptionally lyrical main theme (first heard at 1:11)
and who could dislike the swiftly played closing movement Brasileira which
catches a joyous carnival atmosphere.
On this EMI Classics release I was immediately struck by Sabine Meyer’s
effortless control, broad tonal colouring and deep luxuriant
timbre. Her impeccable playing is consistent throughout and
enjoys the additional advantage of adept accompaniment from
Oleg Maisenberg. I love the way that this talented duo express
sparkling wit in the allegros whilst maintaining a
flowing songfulness in the often poignant slow movements.
The sound quality from Potton Hall is of demonstration standard and
given the interpretative excellence this release is an exceptional
achievement for all concerned. This notwithstanding, the
booklet notes would have benefited from more programmatic
and analytical information on the actual works. Also the
disc would have easily accommodated another score or two.
There are lots to choose from in the broad French clarinet
and piano repertoire, perhaps the Debussy Première Rhapsodie, Ravel Pièce
en forme de Habañera, Chausson Andante et Allegro, Gaubert Fantaisie,
Milhaud Sonatina and Duo Concertante, Messager Solo
de Concours, Devienne Deuxième Sonata, Rabaud Solo
de Concours, Poulenc Sonata for 2 Clarinets or
the Tailleferre Arabesque and solo Clarinet Sonata.
This EMI Classics release of French works for clarinet and piano is
an outstanding achievement.
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