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Support us financially by purchasing this from
Hidden Treasures
see end of review for track listing
Seunghee Lee (clarinet), Evan Solomon (piano)
rec. St Peter’s Church, New York, 3-5 June 2013
SEUNGHEE 888174 459394 [60.48]

One understands well the need for the players of obscure instruments desirous of expanding their repertory to resort to transcriptions of works originally conceived for other forces. On occasion the results can only be variably successful. What is much less comprehensible in the case of this bitty recital, issued on the player’s own label, is the need for the use of such transcriptions for the well-established combination of clarinet and piano. In the anonymous booklet notes we are told that “Lee goes beyond boundaries to venture further into expanding the clarinet’s repertoire”. In fact there is a great mass of good material for clarinet (with and without piano) already available, much of it unplayed and unrecorded, without making use of transcriptions of repertoire which sticks well within the boundaries of the familiar. Seunghee Lee herself is credited with two of the transcriptions here - the remainder being anonymous - but the only two original tracks come right at the end of the CD in the shape of two short pieces by Michele Mangani. Mangani is described in the booklet as “composer” and therefore one might assume is responsible also for the other transcriptions.
 
The disc opens with a straightforward transcription of the third movement from the Brahms Third Symphony – the longest single track here – but some of the shifts between registers of clarinet sound clumsy. The arrangement of the Waltz Song from Gounod’s Roméo is much more straightforward, simply substituting clarinet for soprano. The same applies to Tchaikovsky’s None but the lonely heart but there is not much sense of the composer’s heartbreak here. The Queen of Night is a straight transfer of Die holle Rache, but the sense of wonder which a soprano can achieve with her display of high Fs is missing. So it goes on: a succession of sweetmeats than can only end in producing indigestion.
 
E lucevan le stelle begins, as in the opera, with a clarinet solo but after that there is a swingeing cut made at the point where the voice enters through to the closing bars, so we only get to hear the tune once. The Jewel Song from Faust is similarly truncated; but we do get both verses of Una furtiva lagrima, with the opening bassoon solo allocated to the piano – which seems like a missed opportunity for the soloist to display her chalumeau playing. The Flight of the bumble bee is one of the transcriptions credited to Lee, but it sounds very similar to versions we have already heard from clarinettists such as Emma Johnson who dispatches the showpiece with rather more delicacy and elegance. The Mozart Voi che sapete lacks light and shade in its jogging piano accompaniment, and the clarinet is again rather strait-laced in approach.
 
Baermann’s Adagio, I suspect, would remain totally unknown today were it not for the fact that at one stage it was erroneously attributed to the young Wagner and received a number of recordings in that guise. Without its string accompaniment it sounds even more anaemic than it is. I don’t need to remark on all the tracks here, I think – my comments on the earlier items will give the listener what to expect – except to note that Nessun dorma with the atmospheric offstage chorus parts allocated to piano is a real horror of an arrangement, and that the Gluck aria is totally lacking in the sense of heartbreak and desolation which the composer so insistently sought.
 
One should make particular mention however of the two brief items by Michele Mangani which conclude the disc, and both of which are advertised as “world première recordings.” The first is really a rather fine little piece, with some delicately nuanced piano writing well served by Evan Solomon, who sounds pleased at finally having something to do apart from play transcriptions of orchestral parts. The dancing doll is another slow meditation without much sense of dance to it (“the somnolent doll” might be a better title) but although the clarinet part is quite pleasant the subsidiary piano accompaniment is predictable in the extreme.
 
We are told in the booklet notes that an earlier album by this performer “soared up the HMV Classical Charts in Hong Kong to No 4” and this disc is clearly designed with a very firm eye on the prospect of commercial success. The soloist is her own producer and apparently distributor, so presumably profits will be maximised with fewer people to share in the pot. There is some good playing to be heard here, and plenty of technical assurance, but one would hardly wish to play these suave but undramatic performances through from end to end of the disc without a break. One would really welcome these players in more adventurous and less saccharine repertory.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Track listing
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Poco allegretto from Symphony No 3 [5.50]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Je veux vivre from Roméo et Juliette [4.17]
L’air de bijoux from Faust [3.07]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
None but the lonely heart [2.25]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1793)
Queen of the Night from Die Zauberflöte [2.36]
Voi che sapete from Le nozze di Figaro [2.33]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Merce, dilette amici from I Vespri Siciliani [3.32]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
E lucevan le stelle from Tosca [1.25]
O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi [2.00]
Nessun dorma from Turandot [2.40]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore [3.39]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Flight of the bumble bee [1.19]
Heinrich BAERMANN (1784-1847)
Adagio for clarinet and strings [3.56]
Frederick CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Chromatic Study, Op.10/2 [1.28]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Seguidilla from Carmen [1.55]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Arioso [3.33]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Danza (Tarantella neapolitana) [2.52]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Che faro senza Euridice from Orfeo ed Euridice [3.28]
Michael BALFE (1808-1870)
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls from The Bohemian Girl [3.13]
Michele MANGANI (b. 1966)
Intermezzo [3.22]
The dancing doll [2.36]