British Clarinet Sonatas - Volume 1
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Fantasy Sonata (1943) [13:19]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Sonata in F major Op.129 (1911) [24:13]
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Pastoral (1913-14) [4:19]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Sonata in D major (1934) [13:34]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Sonata (1947) [21:47]
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Michael McHale (piano)
rec. April and May 2011, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10704 [72:54]
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.
Jonathan Woolf 

A self-recommending start to the new Chandos series. 

see also review by Michael Cookson