Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet concerto, KV 622[27:44]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Clarinet concerto [16:22]
Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b.1957)
Ornamental Air (2007)[22:06]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Michael Collins (basset clarinet (Mozart, Kats-Chernin), clarinet (Copland))
rec. 11-16 June 2012, Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden
CHANDOS CHAN 10756 [66:12]
Michael Collins plays Mozart’s 1791 clarinet concerto on the instrument for which it was intended, the basset clarinet. He plays Uzbek-Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin’s 2007 work Ornamental Air on the instrument for which it was intended: also the basset clarinet! If you count Kats-Chernin’s birth and home countries separately, this CD thus spans four centuries and four continents.
The Kats-Chernin might be the highlight of the CD. It is a truly delightful concerto, with a fluid, melodic basset clarinet line that seems to hop across the globe with ease. There are very strong hints of the composer’s central Asian background and other folk traditions, and although the chugging bass accompaniment in the first movement sometimes sounds a bit film-soundtrack-ish, this is not to the piece’s detriment. It has the same lightness, charm and love of melody that informs the Mozart and Copland, even if its style is very different. There are eventually some hints of jazz too. I’m happy to report that repeated listens show there’s more here than novelty value.
The Mozart feels less necessary. Collins plays it on basset clarinet, with his usual fluid grace and finesse, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra provides elegant accompaniment of the old-fashioned sort. There are already at least two great recordings with great soloists playing basset clarinet, Sabine Meyer’s on EMI and Martin Fröst’s on BIS, and there’s no especial reason to choose Collins over either. Collins does add a bit of ornamentation in the second half of the slow movement, which is either interesting or sacrilege, depending on your view - I choose interesting.
The Copland is much the same way: very well-played, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra offers sharp, clear playing which is a pleasure of its own, but this enters a glut of great recordings. So you’re probably buying this for the Kats-Chernin. If so, good choice: it’s well worth your time. If you can’t commit to the cost of a full disc for one piece, The Classical Shop lets you download lossless files of the Kats-Chernin alone for just over a fiver.
Come for the Mozart, stay for the Kats-Chernin? It’s a distinct possibility, as the newest work turns out to be the CD’s most interesting feature.
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