When I listened to this collection, my first thought was - how
singular Richard Stoltzman's clarinet sound is. It is not soft
and flat, as some clarinets can
be. This sound is very convex, energetic, with high vibrato, very youthful and
confident, very concentrated. The technique is perfect: one can forget that the
clarinet is a wind instrument, so assured is the breathing. Still ... something
is missing: I would say - grace. The album is called "Phoenix is Flight",
but this flight involves a lot of muscle work; there is little of the free soaring
one would expect.
The program is a mixed bowl. Between two Weber works there is a Duetto
clarinet and double-bass by the little-known Bottesini which you probably have
never heard before, and Debussy's Première Rhapsodie
which is stylistically
very different from the rest. An arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Autumn Song
) serves as a peaceful encore. I can't see what holds these pieces
together besides the performer. So imagine that you attend an all-Stoltzman concert.
Probably I am missing some implication of the disc title - but I am
Between Mozart and Brahms, it's probably Weber who did the most for the clarinet.
does not follow the standard 19th century concerto pattern.
Its structure is closer to a bel canto
aria. First there is a slow, heavy
introduction (the overture to Don Giovanni
comes to mind), then the animated,
elaborate cabaletta, ending in a fast bravura part. Busoni's cadenza is nice,
but seems to lose the pace.
Bottesini was a great double-bass virtuoso, so he had to write something for
himself, since nobody else did. Maybe the Duetto
sounded more balanced
in its initial form for bass and violin. Between two such different voices as
clarinet and double-bass, the problem of balance is inherent. Probably it cannot
be done better than on this recording - still, the clarinet easily grabs the
stage. We are not used to a double-bass singing in its high register. It does
this like a sore-throat cello so there are some comical impressions which were
hardly intended by the composer. Remember dancing elephants from Saint-Saëns' Carnival
The piece is good for one hearing, but its musical content does not really justify
, on the contrary, is a wonderful creation,
full of Debussy's magic. You can approach it either as an impressionistic orchestral
work with clarinet obbligato - or as a work for clarinet with orchestra - a kind
of a mini-concerto. Stoltzman follows the latter approach. It makes sense, since
the work was originally a competition piece for clarinet. Still, it seems that
some of the delicate layers of Debussy's tone-writing are lost behind the clarinet,
which is very prominent. Again, it could be more graceful. Still, the result
is very colorful.
Weber's Second Concerto does not come naturally after Debussy. However, it is
very well played. The dreamy second movement is surely one of the high points
of the disc. Its melancholy is hushed, beautiful melodies reach the heart, long
notes and trills captivate. It brings to mind some of Mozart's slow movements.
The framing parts are more Rossini-like, cheerful and daring. Stoltzman's virtuosity
Another unnatural jump - to Tchaikovsky's autumnal elegy. The clarinet sound
is beautiful. The arrangement by Toru Takemitsu is very faithful to the original,
carefully shadowed. But I do not feel the due melancholy in the music. The nocturne
turned into a concert aria.
The recording quality is excellent. The orchestra backs the soloist perfectly,
and is wonderfully sensitive in Debussy and in Weber's slow movement. The liner-notes
are not especially generous; still, they give us two interesting personal looks:
of Stoltzman on the pieces, and of the conductor, Kirk Trevor, on his good friend
Stoltzman. The disc also contains PDF files of the clarinet parts.
The overall feeling I got is: yes, this is great clarinet playing. Such range,
such ease! But it's more for the sake of clarinet playing than for the sake of
the music itself.
see also review by Bob Briggs