Jean Xavier LEFÈVRE (1763-1829)
A Revolutionary Tutor : Clarinet Sonatas, volume 2
Sonatas for C clarinet and cello, from the Méthode de Clarinette (1802):
Clarinet Sonata no.2 in A minor [9:21]
Clarinet Sonata no.4 in F minor [10:52]
Clarinet Sonata no.6 in C [11:08]
Clarinet Sonata no.8 in F [9:54]
Clarinet Sonata no.10 in B flat [12:23]
Clarinet Sonata no.12 in F [20:30]
Colin Lawson (C clarinet)
Sebastian Comberti (cello)
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, July 2010. DDD
CLARINET CLASSICS CC0058 [74:36]
This is the second and last volume of Xavier Lefèvre's complete progressive sonatas from his influential Méthode de Clarinette, submitted to and published by the Paris Conservatoire in 1802. Both this and Volume 1 (CC0055), which comprised all the odd-numbered sonatas, are first recordings with Lefèvre's preferred instrumentation - C clarinet with basso continuo - in historically informed performances. The C clarinet fell out of fashion primarily because of its tone, which is slightly strident in the higher register, muddy in the lower - in any case, noticeably different from the modern standard orchestral instruments in B flat or A, and attractive in a more arcane way.
Xavier Lefèvre - sometimes referred to using his first name proper, Jean, and/or with a separated surname with acute accent - Le Févre - was a very conservative composer; in some respects less a composer than a clarinettist and pedagogue who wrote music to elaborate his teachings.
Such is the case with the Sonatas featured here: Lefèvre's innovations lay in technique, rather than music. The works are not, therefore, imbued with grand artistic imagination or insight into the human condition. But beyond their obvious pedagogic value, there is lovely melody, elegance, wistfulness, restraint and humour in abundance, culminating in the delightful, memorable Theme and Variations finale of Sonata no.12, and all in accordance with the principles Lefèvre expounded in his far-reaching Method. These are not then full-blooded sonatas, 19th century style - the cello's role is almost entirely supportive, providing extra colour and texture; cellist Sebastian Comberti has to wait until the last few minutes of the last movement of that last sonata for a share of the spotlight!
In the liner notes for Volume 1, clarinettist Colin Lawson, possibly a kind of latter-day Lefèvre as Director of the Royal College of Music and widely published authority on the clarinet, as well as an outstanding period instrumentalist, gives insightful notes regarding the best way to play Lefèvre today. He says that it is easy for them to sound too heavy or thick, and even Lefèvre warned pupils of the danger of monotony if not enough attention was paid to tone and articulation. In Lawson's words: "Above all, the character of each movement must be portrayed through small-scale phrasing and articulations to illuminate the cantabile line [...] A simple cello accompaniment is much preferable to any of the available piano realisations that introduce extra and often inappropriate material for the right hand." On the other hand, performers must make their own choices regarding dynamics and judicious ornamentation, particularly in the low-numbered sonatas - and Lawson's decisions seem entirely in keeping with the spirit of Lefèvre's pedagogy.
Sound and production quality are very good. The CD booklet is concise but informative, and easy on the eye. For Volume 1 Clarinet Classics made available the sheet music for the sonatas, more than half of which had not been published since 1802 - the music is free to download in PDF format, one file per Sonata, from their website - no purchase necessary. Pages on the site beyond the homepage have user-unfriendly URLs, but a simple search using any of the catalogue details for Volume 1 given in this review will quickly turn up the relevant page. Clarinet Classics will make the sheet music for Volume 2 Sonatas available soon.
This is the second CD of early clarinet sonatas by Lefèvre released in the last few months - for the Tudor issue featuring Eduard Brunner, see review. With luck, there will be more: Lefèvre's body of works includes 21 clarinet sonatas and over 150 clarinet duos, mostly for two clarinets.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Lovely melody, elegance, wistfulness, restraint and humour in abundance.