Who better than Michael Collins to inaugurate a new series of
British Clarinet Sonatas for Chandos? He’s been active
in the field before now, indeed this is his second recording
of Bax’s Sonata, but it’s always valuable to hear
artists revisiting works a decade or more after a previous recording.
Nothing is static; emphases and tempo relationships change,
acoustics are different, constant immersion in a score brings
out different insights, voicings, and phrasal changes.
He last recorded the Bax for Hyperion with Ian Brown. You won’t
be disappointed with either performance and in an important
way they are, tonal questions apart, complementary. With Brown,
Collins took a slightly more discursive, flexible approach;
here, Toscanini-like with Michael McHale, he takes a somewhat
more tautly structured view and has gently revised some of his
earlier rubati. If you like more the romantic view, then it’s
to Hyperion you should go; if you are interested in a more classicised
Bax, then stick with the Chandos, though I should add that these
are minor matters. Both performances are splendid.
John Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata of 1943, written nearly
a decade after Bax’s 1934 Sonata, is played with great
skill too, Collins swooping through its moods, textures and
metres with fluidity, tonal warmth and resolution. This is surely
as fine a performance on disc as any. Herbert Howell’s
1947 Sonata was written ‘in remembrance’ of Frederick
Thurston, who inspired so many works for the instrument. Thurston’s
widow Thea King recorded it for Hyperion a number of years ago,
and Collins’s account takes its place alongside hers.
Both clarinettists explore Howell’s troubled melancholic
lines with considerable success; and sustenance of breath, and
tone colour, are exemplary in both recordings.
Stanford’s Sonata of 1911 was jointly dedicated to Oscar
W. Street and to Charles Draper - the latter, certainly, was
the great British clarinettist of his generation, the Thurston
of his age. The very best writing here comes in the central
movement, the ‘Caoine’ which is played with outstanding
tonal allure by Collins who, in the outer movements, responds
to the strength of the writing with technical surety, abetted
by an incisive McHale. Arthur Bliss’s Pastoral was also
recorded by Thea King for Hyperion - in some ways, if Thurston
was the new Draper, Collins is turning into the new King - and
Collins offers comparable virtues, playing with unsentimental
dedication a work first performed by Draper, the year after
the death of Bliss’s clarinettist brother Kennard.
With excellent production values, recording and booklet notes,
this is a self-recommending start to the new Chandos series.
see also review by Michael