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The Lyrical Clarinet - Volume 3
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Michael McHale (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20147 [70:07]

Michael Collins has been around for quite some time, as one of the world’s leading clarinettists and, lately, also conductor. The Lyrical Clarinet is the third instalment where he takes on lighter material, mostly in arrangements (review). In fact the only piece that is originally for clarinet and piano is Philippe Gaubert’s Fantaisie from 1911, and it is also the least known of the music. Gaubert was himself a celebrated flautist, but he composed the Fantaisie for his friend Prosper Mimart, who was professor of clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire. It is a rather meditative piece until the second half, where the soloist can show off his technical brilliance, which is considerable. All the other pieces are arranged by his pianist Michael McHale, except the final work, which is the only really substantial work here: César Franck’s Violin Sonata, which Collins himself has transcribed. It is not the first time this happens – I have recordings with cello and flute – and it only confirms that good music can be adapted for various instruments or combinations of instruments and still be excellent works in their new guise. The small pieces – it’s tempting to label them as lollipops – that constitute the majority of the contents on this well-filled disc, are all good old friends to most of my readers, I believe. And so we get piano pieces – Debussy’s Clair de lune and La Fille aux cheveux de lin, one of Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte and Schumann’s Träumerei – music for violin and piano – Kreisler’s Liebesleid and Schön Rosmarin played elegantly and caressing with Viennese lilt – music for cello and piano – Fauré’s Sicilienne and Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne – music for piano four hands – Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 1 – and music for voice and piano – Fauré’s Après un rêve and Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3. I know, most people have only heard it as a piano solo, but it was from the beginning a song with the text Oh Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst. A little mystery surrounds the Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis. She was a blind pianist, contemporaneous with Mozart who supposedly wrote his concerto KV 456 for her. Paradis composed five operas and three cantatas, besides other music, but whether she also wrote the Sicilienne is a moot point. It was discovered by the violinist Samuel Dushkin, dedicatee of Stravinsky’s violin concerto, who prepared the first edition for Schott in 1924, i. e. exactly 100 years after the supposed composer’s death. The publisher also wrote ‘according to the latest research, Sicilienne was not written by Maria Theresia von Paradis, but by Samuel Dushkin.’ Be that as it may, but it lends itself well to the smooth tones of Michael Collins’s clarinet.

It should be said at once that Michael Collins lavishes as much care, musicality and technical brilliance, beauty of tone and expressivity on these lollipops as would do on a clarinet sonata or any other ‘bigger’ piece. For instance his reading of Brahms’s Hungarian dance has true gypsy magic. It’s utterly relevant that he plays this piece on the clarinet, since the instrument is frequently heard in the Hungarian folk music, together with the violin and cimbalom. Most people know this dance in the orchestral version, which was one of three out of totally dances that Brahms himself orchestrated. But the original was for piano four hands and surely aimed at music making in the homes, where they became immensely popular at a time when gramophone records and phonograph cylinders were decades away. Prospective buyers can rest assured that all the lovely pieces are played with the same wholeheartedness and elegance.

The concluding violin sonata by Franck is of course one of the greatest works in the chamber music genre and is in every important violinist’s repertoire. And I can understand the envy that other instrumentalists feel when hearing it. That string players transcribe it is no wonder, besides numerous cellists several viola players have also adopted it, including Maxim Rysanov, Tabea Zimmermann and Nobuko Imai. Among flutists James Galway, Emmanuel Pahud and Aurèle Nicolet can be mentioned, but as far as I have found out Michael Collins is the first clarinettist to enter the field. And he does it all-in with springy playing and wide dynamic scope. The concluding Allegretto poco mosso works particularly well with clarinet, but whole sonata is exceptionally good in Collins’s hands, and in my mind it is better suited to the clarinet than the flute. The clarinet’s wider dynamic possibilities and also, to some extent, wider spectrum of colours are two important factors. I know I will listen to this version with pleasure in the future, not least due to the excellent cooperation between Michael Collins and Michael McHale, and when the disc is in the CD-player I will certainly play some of the lollipops as well. But probably not all of them at one sitting. For clarinettists and lovers of the clarinet this should be obligatory listening.

Göran Forsling

Achille-Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
1. Clair de lune (c. 1890, revised 1905) [4:22]
Fritz KREISLER (1875 – 1962)
2. Liebesleid (c. 1905) [3:13]
Philippe GAUBERT (1879 – 1941)
3. Fantaisie (1911) [7:29]
Maria Theresia von PARADIS (attrib.) (1759 – 1824)
4. Sicilienne (date unknown) [2:30]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
5. Sicilienne, Op. 78 (1893 / 1898) [3:19]
6. Schön Rosmarin (c. 1905) [1:56]
Gabriel FAURÉ
7. Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1 (1877) [3:11]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1847)
8. Lied ohne Worte, Op. 38 No. 2 (1836) [2:21]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
9. Träumerei, Op. 15 No. 7 (1838) [2:14]
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
10. Liebestraum No. 3, S 541 (1843-50) [4:33]
Achille-Claude DEBUSSY
11. La fille aux cheveux de lin (1910) [2:22]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
12. Hungarian Dance No. 1 (1868) [3:05]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
13. Le Cygne (1886) [2:42]
César FRANCK (1822 – 1890)
Sonata, M 8 (1886) [26:43]
14. I. Allegretto ben moderato [5:39]
15. II. Allegro – Poco più lento – Tempo I (Allegro) – Poco più lento – Quasi presto [7:51]
16. III. Recitativo – Fantasia [7:08]
Recitativo. Ben moderato – Molto lento – Poco animato – Fantasia. A tempo moderato –Largamente – Recitativo. Molto lento e mesto
17. IV. Allegretto poco mosso [6:03]

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