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Belle époque
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Rhapsody for clarinet & piano (or orchestra), L. 116 'Première rhapsodie' [7:41]
Manfred TROJAHN (b. 1949)
Rhapsodie pour clarinette et orchestra [18:03]
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Canzonetta in E-Flat Major, Op. 19 (arr. Jelle Tassyns) [3:43]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata No. 1, Op. 120 in F minor (arr. Luciano Berio) [22:39]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Introduction et Rondo (op. 72) (arr. Jelle Tassyns) [7:37]
Annelien Van Wauwe (clarinet)
Orchestre National de Lille/Alexandre Bloch
rec. 2018, Auditorium of Le Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France
PENTATONE PTC5186808 SACD [59:50]

For her first recording for the Pentatone label, the Belgian clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe has chosen music pieces which were composed in the places which she has lived and studied, with Belgium, France, Germany and Italy all represented. All these pieces have been chosen to reflect the ‘beautiful era’ of artistic endeavour in Europe at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an era abruptly curtailed by the brutality of the First World War.

The muted opening of the Debussy 'Première Rhapsodie' is beautifully played here; the piece is the perfect introduction to this disc. Dating from 1910, this Rhapsody for clarinet & piano was composed as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire’s students at the request of Gabriel Fauré, and was soon orchestrated by the composer. It is a piece that requires great skill and control in both the soloist and orchestra, something that is clear in this superb performance, which has quickly replaced my other accounts as favourite.

The German composer Manfred Trojahn might seem an odd inclusion on this disc, especially as the ‘beautiful era’ was long over by the time of his death, while the work itself was composed for Sabine Meyer who gave the first performance in May 2002, this present recording being a world premiere. However, in this work Trojahn pays homage to French music, seeking to “achieve a lightness such as is found at times in French music, to which this composition is indebted.” The Rhapsody is in three movements which are dominated by slow tempi; the first movement is far from the music of Debussy’s Rhapsody, having a strident obligato clarinet over the modern orchestral sound. The slow central movement is more French in style, but even then it is post Belle époque, while the final movement is more modernistic, although it does have a humorous side to it. Despite this ardent modernism, the work is still melodic as well as interesting and approachable enough to be worth investigating.

The next three works are all arrangements for clarinet and orchestra, with the Canzonetta in E-Flat Major, Op. 19 by Gabriel Pierné being the first. This charming and lilting miniature started out as a work for clarinet and piano and is here arranged for clarinet and orchestra by the Belgian Jelle Tassyns. He has made an excellent job of this version, retaining the humour and Gallic charm of the original whilst enlarging the colour pallet of the piece.

The most famous of the five works presented on this disc is the Brahms Clarinet Sonata No. 1, Op. 120 in F minor in the famous orchestration by Luciano Berio, which, as with the original Sonata, can be played by either a clarinet or a viola. This arrangement was commissioned in 1986 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has since then become quite popular and featured on a number of recordings. In spite of his being regarded as an avant-garde composer, his arrangement here, like others he has made of earlier pieces, is quite sympathetic and faithful to the original, the result being the clarinet concerto that Brahms never composed. The performance here by both soloist and orchestra is very good, and while it may not eclipse my favourite versions, it is certainly better than some others I have heard.

For the final work on this disc we return to France, this time for Widor and his Introduction et Rondo for Clarinet and Piano Op. 72, which once again has been arranged for clarinet and orchestra by Jelle Tassyns. This charming piece is again treated with respect by Tassyns, his thoughtful arrangement adding depth and colour while keeping faith with the original.

The playing throughout is very good, with Annelien Van Wauwe proving herself a formidable clarinettist, especially in the Manfred Trojahn work, although it is in the French pieces that she really shines. The Orchestre National de Lille and Alexandre Bloch are in perfect partnership with the soloist, making this a most interesting and enjoyable disc. The recorded sound is clear and bright and the booklet notes give a good introduction to each of the composers and their music. A very welcome disc of music for clarinet and orchestra.

Stuart Sillitoe 

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