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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Max REGER (1873-1916) The Clarinet Sonatas
Sonata in B flat Major Op. 107 (1908/09) [30:46]
Sonata in A flat Major op. 49 No. 1 (1900) [20:16]
Sonata in F sharp minor Op. 49 No. 2 (1900) [20:19]
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Michael McHale (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, 2017 CHANDOS CHAN10970 [71:49]
The legend goes that Reger walked in on a private performance of one of Brahms’s clarinet sonatas opus 120, and was so taken by the work that he decided to compose two himself. Within a few months, the fruits of his labour resulted in his opus 49, a glorious evocation of the romantic idiom. But, as I stated in my review of Claudio Conti’s recording for Brilliant (95258), these three sonatas are individualistic works, tempered by the later romantic tradition. In that review, I felt that the tempi were a little too brisk; in my opinion the performance of Janet Hilton and Jakob Fichert for Naxos (8.572173) was my preferred recording. So I intend to compare this new recording with the latter.
My favourite among Reger’s clarinet sonatas is the B flat Major Op. 107. Unlike Hilton and Fichert, who present the three sonatas in order, Collins and McHale choose to make a bold statement by presenting this sonata first. In this sonata, and indeed throughout this disc, Collins and McHale choose a tempo which forms a happy medium between the Brilliant and the Naxos recordings. They can present the beauty of Hilton’s performance and some of the excitement of Conti’s. In Collins’s hands the work comes alive. It lives up to Reger’s description of the sonata as “a very light and friendly piece, not long at all, so that the character of the sound of the wind instrument does not tire”.
Collins and McHale’s performance of the two Sonatas Op. 49 are equally as good. Again, their tempo choice helps bring out the gaiety of the A flat Major, and the beauty and tenderness of the F sharp minor. These are very fine works. In Collins and McHale’s hand they are given a new lease of life. I now feel that there is little to choose between the three sonatas. I can see why they chose to present the sonatas in the order that they did. In these two sonatas Collins and McHale shine. Their performance quickly became my preferred recording of the few I have and I cannot see it being bettered soon.
Throughout this new recording, Collins and McHale are excellent. As already stated, their choice of tempi is an important factor. Not only does it help the listener get to the spirit of these three sonatas. It also means that their articulation of particular phrases and the changes in speed that these require are sharper and more precise. They are helped by the acoustic and the recorded sound, both excellent—as are Nicholas Marston’s booklet notes.