French Clarinet Rhapsody
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Première rhapsodie (1910) [9:09]
Petite pièce (1910) [1:45]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1865) [14:02]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano, H.42 (1921-22) [5:54]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
Andantino Op.30 No.10 (1906) [3:38]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Sonatina, Op.100 (1927) [9:48]
Duo Concertant, Op.351 (1956) [5:55]
Caprice, Op.335a (1954) [1:57]
Ralph Manno (clarinet), Alfredo Perl (piano)
rec. April 1995, Sendesaal Radio Bremen. DDD.

There are many clarinet-and-piano records. More often the clarinet plays the leading role, the piano serving as a supporting background. Less often they have equal input. On this disc, the piano does more than we may be used to. And the clarinet does less. It is a strange feeling - that the clarinet is a nuisance. But at some moments that was exactly the feeling I had with this recital disc. It seemed that Alfredo Perl did all the emotional work, and Ralph Manno was a skilful but indifferent accompanist. OK, there is beauty and sentiment there, and virtuosity is undeniable. Still, I was left with the feeling that the clarinet lacks the will to step forward, to show emotion. By contrast the piano is exceptionally colorful. Maybe it’s the difference between the musicians’ German and Chilean temperaments.
The program is well conceived. The disc opens with the exotic jungle of the Première rhapsodie. It is less dynamic and more languid than usual - kind of Afternoon of a Clarinet. It is not really slow, but somehow the notes seem longer. The main motif especially slows down. The episodes of brisk movement have a lot of character, but Manno does not make the long notes interesting. In other performances we may not even notice these notes behind the music: here we hear them very distinctly: Note. Note. Note. Like horizontal shelves. Perl, on the other hand, is excellent in the role of the orchestra: fluid, diverse, multi-colored. The ensuing Petite pièce is light and soft. 
Perl is also admirable in Poulenc’s beautiful Sonata, one of the gems of the chamber music. Each piano note seems hand-painted. The first movement is faster and sharper than usual. The slow movement is not very calm, as the composer’s mark requests. Rather, it is emotional. The clarinet does not hush its voice. Manno is shrill in the third movement, which starts to remind the Chinese Dance from The Nutcracker.
The word “sonatina” is often associated with simplified fast-slow-fast structure and Haydnesque carefree mood. Honegger’s Sonatine is dark and pensive - until the finale, which bursts with French optimism and reminds us that Honegger also wrote Pacific 231. This finale is played very well - alive and kicking. However, the first movement is too quiet, the clarinet almost expressionless. I don’t feel that the soul of this music is there.
Schmitt’s Andantino began its life as a vocalise. I do not know the original soprano version, but I imagine that it makes more sense than the clarinet arrangement or, perhaps the performance needs more emotion to get the listener involved.
Milhaud’s heavily polytonal Sonatine frames a song-like middle movement with two fast parts, very similar to each other and marked very rude. These two are quite untamed, with childish “merry violence”, wild rhythms and abstract harmonies. The performance is very good. In the first movement we get some quieter corners to look around. The slow movement shows impressive, albeit disturbing, views. The finale is hectic and full of excitement. The Duo concertant is in ABA form, where A is a carefree polka, while B is calm and pastoral. Again, Manno and Perl are very good: the middle section is lively and atmospheric; the outer sections are light and bouncy. Finally, Caprice is a good-humored sketch, in the mood of a happy walking. The performance is fast, but not too much: alive, not hasty.
The recording is clear, but not especially deep. The liner-note is not very informative. The total playing time of the disc can’t be called generous. All things considered, this is not a must-have though the Milhaud is good. The emotionally detached approach of Ralph Manno does not suit this repertoire perfectly. Alfredo Perl does a really great job, but in clarinet pieces one would expect first of all to listen to the clarinet.  

Oleg Ledeniov 

Great piano, indifferent clarinet. Not a must-have.