Mit Feuer und Leidenschaft
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Grand Duo concertant, Op.48 (1915-16) [21:55]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Album Leaf and Tarantella, for Clarinet and Piano (1902) [3:37]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Dance Preludes (1954-55) [10:23]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Clarinet Sonata (1962) [14:07]
Sebastian Theile (clarinet), Nicholas Rimmer (piano)
rec. July 2009, Sendesaal des SWR, Stuttgart. DDD
THOROFON CTH 2568 [50:09]
From my modest knowledge of German, the album title can be translated as With Fire and Passion. Two young musicians, Sebastian Theile and Nicholas Rimmer, give us an excellent presentation of four beautiful and diverse works for clarinet and piano. This is a real duo, as the piano has good presence, more than in some clarinet-centered recordings. The effect is further helped by the perfect balance found by the recording engineer. The sound of Theile’s clarinet is rather sharp and concentrated. The piano sound is also very clearly pronounced. The performers transcend mere technical brilliance and imbue the music with emotion.
In the first movement of Weber’s Grand Duo Theile and Rimmer have all the necessary bravura, and yet are gentle in the gentle places. Although fast, the playing is not aggressive, and is very sympathetic. The viscous sadness of the operatic second movement is heartfelt. Theile does very well in the difficult task of playing those long, long notes expressively. Rimmer creates the dark atmosphere, and is intense and powerful in the dramatic outbursts. The cheerful Rondo is light and bouncy, its golden note-spinning well articulated. I am sure that Weber himself would have loved this performance.
The two Reger’s miniatures also combine virtuosity with lyrical feeling. Albumblatt, under a pastoral cover, hides tightly compressed emotion. Tarantella is more energetic, propelled by the rhythm. It is essentially a short, agitated scherzo. The two instruments weave around each other like the two strains of DNA.
Lutosławski declared his Dance Preludes to be his farewell to folklore. This is the last work he created in an idiom based on Polish folk music, before he firmly turned to the avant-garde. The work is based on songs from Northern Poland. These are preludes in the tradition of Chopin: each is a compact elaboration of a mood or a short idea. Playful fast parts are followed by pensive slow ones. The performance is very affectionate. I don’t think this music would shine on its own in a less involved presentation, but in Theile and Rimmer it finds real advocates.
The two instruments blend perfectly in Poulenc’s Sonata. The first movement is muscular and youthful. The slow episode opens with terrifying shrillness, which leads to wistful yearning and sadness. In the second movement, again, Theile knows how to play the long notes so that they are alive and breathing. The tempo is quite fast, but the emotion is throbbing, and the simple melody speaks directly to the soul. This is a very beautiful, poignant reading. The sonata and the disc end on an optimistic note: the third movement returns to a friendly unbuttoned humor, although with some romantic thoughts woven in.
I wish the disc contained more: with only 50 minutes of total time, it is far from munificent. The liner-note also is rather economical in the description of the music, although the performer biographies are apt. Nevertheless, the performances are truly excellent, and combine technical prowess with fire and passion, just as the title of the album promises. 

Oleg Ledeniov  

Fire and passion.