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CD: AmazonUK


Clarinet Music 1950

Duet Concertino (1947) [19:07] 
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913–1994)
Dance Preludes (1954 orchestrated 1955) [09:38]
Aaron COPLAND (1900–1990)
Clarinet Concerto (1947/1949) [17:14]
Carl NIELSEN (1865–1931)
Little Suite, op.1 (1888) [14:12]
Jean-François Verdier (clarinet), Laurent Lefèvre (bassoon)
Ensemble Jean Wiéner/François-Xavier Roth
rec. July 2001, Ecole Nationale de Musique d’Aulnay-sous-Bois. DDD
QUANTUM QM7006 [60:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Strauss’s Duet Concertino is a real gem. Written at the very end of his life, following the last operas, the Metamorphosen and the two large wind symphonies, to mention but a few works, this is music of contentment, not resignation. This is a composer looking back on his life and the sheer pleasure of making music. It might come as a shock to some that this is a work without peaks or troughs – it simply is there, ambling through some lovely themes, engaging in delightful dialogue, like two friends chatting over a beer. There seem to be slight hints of the Metamorphosen and the sextet from Capriccio in the string writing which, in light of the very autumnal nature of the work, is quite touching.
Until the Funeral Music, in memory of Bartók (1958), Lutoslawski’s music was based on folk music and these Dance Preludes represent one of his final forays into that territory. Indeed, the composer said it was “My farewell to folklore for an indefinite period”. Written for clarinet and piano, it was orchestrated the following year for the ensemble we hear in this recording - whose première, the booklet tells us, was conducted by Benjamin Britten. Four years later he made another version for the Czech Nonet. The music, like the Strauß, is easy-going but with more of an edge to it, as befits a work based on folk material. The five pieces are short and pithy. The three fast movements are rhythmically interesting and the two slow ones are reminiscent of Bartók’s night music pieces.
Copland’s Concerto is probably the best known piece on the disk. Written for Benny Goodman, it reminds one of the test pieces written for the Paris Conservatoire – two sections, a slow lyrical opening to show the soloist’s ability to play legato phrases and a fast section to display the players’ virtuosity. I’ve often wondered if that was where Copland got the idea for the form of this work. As Goodman was known as a jazzman, perhaps the lyrical portion was written to prove that he could play sensitively. I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that Copland wrote a marvellous work, which fully complements the instrument and is a fine tribute to its dedicatee.
As a makeweight the disk ends with Carl Nielsen’s lovely Little Suite, op.1.
In general this is a good and interesting disk: two out-of-the way pieces and two popular pieces. The recording is fresh and clear and the notes are good. What does let it all down is the fact that the orchestra is far too small - 7 violins, 2 violas, 3 cellos and 1 bass simply isn’t enough for this music. It sounds like a chamber ensemble and not an orchestra, and when a full tutti is required – such as at the start of the finale of the Nielsen Suite (for the glorious striding melody he writes) - there simply isn’t sufficient power. There is one other point, and this has been a bugbear of mine for years. When a composer writes “jazzy” music all the player has to do is play the notes as they are writ and all the jazziness comes out. Verdier is obviously a fine player but when he gets to the slow drag in the latter part of the Copland he starts to pull the rhythm about in the forlorn hope that this will make it all the jazzier. It doesn’t and I wish that musicians would realize this – even Bernstein is guilty of doing this in his recordings of Rhapsody in Blue. If the performers would trust the composer then they’d give better performances, and much better realisations of the scores they are playing.
All in all, this is a nice disk, but the performances are too lightweight, although I did like their touch in the Strauss which is quite lovely. There is neither sufficient insight into the music nor punch in the performances for satisfactory repeated hearings.
Bob Briggs


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