It is really hard to imagine a more diverse survey of Clarinet Sonatas of the 20th
Century than that which Dawid Jarzynski offers us here: the simple, poignant sonata from Saint-SaŽns’ final year, the first-ever sonata for bass clarinet (by Othmar Schoeck, student of Reger), a world premiere by Edison Denisov, and Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Leonard Bernstein forming a bridge across the Cold War divide.
The program, and the intelligence with which Jarzynski has put it together, is the main attraction here, but the playing only partially lives up to its potential. Jarzynski is a versatile presence, eloquent in the Saint-SaŽns (though pianist Tamara Chitadze steals the show with her breathtakingly light playing in the lento
), lending strong but cool advocacy to the Weinberg and Denisov, and taking up the bass clarinet for the Schoeck. “Cool” might be the operative word, though: he’s smooth but not too jazzy in the Bernstein - compare to the American Jon Manasse, on harmonia mundi - a little muted in color in the Saint-SaŽns, and doesn’t really boast the huge wide sound or tonal palette of someone like Martin FrŲst.
That is not enough to preclude a recommendation, though, especially given this album provides a welcome introduction to Denisov’s 1993 clarinet sonata, filled with strange and wonderful wavering ascents up the registers of the clarinet and piano - the ending of the first movement is especially memorable. Weinberg’s, too, is a pleasure to meet: it has an evocative introduction for the clarinet alone and some engaging give-and-take between lighter and darker tones. One melody in the first movement could almost be described as delicate, and the central allegretto has a blend of wit and darkness which should appeal to anyone keen on Shostakovich. The Schoeck for bass clarinet is mainly enjoyable for the composer’s exploration (the first ever in a sonata) of the instrument’s range and tonal color; there are moments which evoke the soulfulness of the saxophone, a second movement which undergoes a sort of slow-motion emotional collapse, and a finale with droll passages delivered too straight-faced here.
The recorded sound is quite close; we can hear a lot of clarinet clicks and nearly all of Jarzynski’s breathing. As mentioned, Tamara Chitadze is a good enough pianist to sometimes upstage her partner, but the partnership feels warm and communicative. Jarzynski contributes his own booklet, which reveals the intelligence with which he’s put the program together, but which sadly suffers from poor translation. I suppose that could be taken as a metaphor, for this is a very smart program indeed, but although the performances are good they are, at times (Saint-SaŽns, Bernstein), not quite idiomatic enough.