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Contemporary Clarinet Concertos
Magnus LINDBERG (b.1958)
Clarinet concerto (2001-2) [27:24]
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
Kammerkonzert for clarinet, string quartet and string orchestra (1930-35) [34:07]
John FAJOT (b.1975)
Fantasme – Cercles de Mana (2014-8) [[11:35]
Jean-Luc Votano (clarinet)
Quatuor Daniel
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/Christian Arming
rec. 2018, Salle Philharmonique, Liège, Belgium
FUGA LIBERA FUG752 [73:06]

Everyone agrees that Mozart’s clarinet concerto is the finest work ever written for the instrument. Even so, players occasionally want to play, and listeners to hear, something else and indeed there have been many good concertos for the clarinet since Mozart. In the nineteenth century there is Weber and Spohr but alas not Brahms. In the twentieth there is Stanford, Debussy (the Rhapsody), Nielsen, Hindemith, Richard Strauss (the Duett-Concertino), Mathias, Rawsthorne, Maxwell Davies, John Adams, Elliott Carter and no doubt others, and in this century Rautavaara and Aho, among others. These are just some of those I have heard; you can see a longer list here.

Here we have a recording of three clarinet concertante works, only one of which has been recorded before. That one is the opener here, the concerto by the contemporary Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg. He is one of the few living composers whose every new work I want to hear – and whose every recording I buy. All his works have a beguiling and iridescent texture, a kind of sparkle – as indeed do Mozart’s – and are fascinating from moment to moment, even though I often don’t understand the logic behind them. This concerto is no exception. It begins with a quiet clarinet solo (Lindberg being Finnish, one thinks at once of the opening of Sibelius’s first symphony) but soon moves into Lindberg’s characteristic volatile movement. The solo instrument plays nearly throughout, but there are also two clarinets and a bass clarinet in the orchestra and at one point he has a dialogue with them. The ending is surprising, with a long high note on the solo clarinet and a descent over a quiet chord in the orchestra. This is certainly a masterpiece.

The other two works here do not seem to me to reach that status. I believe they may be first recordings, though the booklet makes no such claim. Karl Amadeus Hartmann had a difficult life and withdrew completely from public musical activity during the Nazi years. He continued to compose but rewrote nearly all his works after the war as well as taking a leading role in rebuilding musical life. He wrote eight symphonies, all of which I have heard. I have to say that, although his personal story is impressive, I have found his work unmemorable. The work here, an early one which was not rewritten, does not change my mind. It is for the curious combination of solo clarinet, string quartet and string orchestra. There is an introduction, a theme followed by five variations and a final fantasie. There are occasional reminiscences of Hungarian and even Russian music, but as a whole the work does not seem to cohere.

Johan Farjot is active as a pianist, conductor and musical entrepreneur. His Fantasme – Cercles de Mana is inspired by the Polynesian concept of Mana, a magical power inherent in all created things. (Listeners might recall Jolivet’s piano suite Mana.) This is not formally a concerto but Farjot writes that the clarinet ‘acts as a type of master of ceremonies.’ The work is fluent and pleasant, quite easy on the ear but also unmemorable.

However, what is consistently impressive is the quite wonderful playing of Jean-Luc Votano, the soloist. His day job is as principal clarinet of the orchestra here. He certainly deserves promotion to the solo role. His tone is very attractive, his virtuosity amazing and his account of the Lindberg concerto possibly even more beguiling than that of its creator Kari Krikku. Lindberg fans will probably already have Krikku’s recording, on an all-Lindberg programme (Ondine ODE1038-2), but they should look out for this. It’s worth the price of the disc just to hear it.

No complaints about the recording. The booklet is helpful. I would like to hear Votano in more clarinet works. Now didn’t one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart write quite a good concerto?

Stephen Barber

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