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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]

Who knew there were so many wonderful pieces for clarinet and piano? This well-filled disc (70 minutes) is no less than volume 3 of the series, The Lyrical Clarinet, featuring the incomparable Michael Collins with Michael McHale on the piano.

The answer, of course, is that there aren’t very many wonderful pieces. Most of these are actually arrangements by Michael McHale of well-known cello, piano and vocal works. But thanks to his clever work, and in the hands of these two remarkable musicians, they all sound as if they were written for the piano and clarinet. The exception is the 1911 Fantaisie by Philippe Gaubert, a seven-and-a-half minute combination of Debussian languor and Ravellian romp. Gaubert was himself a flautist, as well as a well-known conductor, and he wrote a Fantaisie for flute and piano as well as this one for clarinet. This is delightful and refreshing.

The other works are shorter but very melodic. The disc opens with Debussy’s Clair de lune, played by Collins with a pure, clean tone in which there is nothing hackneyed. Kreisler’s Liebeslied is restrained but moving, and after the Gaubert, there are two Siciliennes – one by Maria Theresa von Paradis – maybe, though it could well be by Samuel Dushkin – and one by Fauré which just goes to show what a genius composer can do with an old form. Then comes Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin, which manages to feature a lot of rubato without spoiling the line. Fauré makes a second appearance with Après un rêve, where Collins holds some very long notes – it was the first track in which I became aware of his breathing. Mendelssohn’s Lied ohne Worte op.38 no.2 puts the song in the song without words, and Schumann’s Träumerei op.15 no.7 is suitably dreamy. Another dream follows, Liszt’s Liebestraum no.3 S541, and there’s more Debussy, La fille aux cheveux de lin. The instruction from Debussy begins “Trés calme” and the performers obey. Collins find a klezmer-ish tone for Brahm’s Hungarian Dance no.1, while Saint-Säens’ Le Cygne is simply a melodic marvel while both musicians pedal furiously beneath the waves.

César Franck’s Sonata, M 8, by far the longest work on the disc, comes at the end of all these encores, an odd positioning but of course irrelevant on a modern CD player. Michael Collins is the arranger this time. But it has been arranged over the years for cello (Jules Delsart), piano duet (Alfred Cortot), and flute (Jean-Pierre Rampal), which suggests it lends itself well to arrangements.

Michael Collins’ way with it is convincing and idiomatic. There are one or two places in the second and fourth movements where on first hearing you might miss the violin’s passion – but listen again and you would think it had always been a clarinet work. The recording is excellent, without a hint of harshness when Michael Collins hits the high notes. The sound is clear without being too close and the balance between piano and clarinet is exemplary. I haven’t heard the earlier Lyrical Clarinet discs – though I shall be searching them out – but it seems that this one is probably the “poppiest” of the three. Earlier ones seem to include longer works by composers like Field and Francaix, Burgmüller and Reade, and feature fewer of those short items that might be classed as encores. But is there enough music left for the Lyrical Clarinet IV? Let’s hope so.

Chris Ramsden
Previous review: Göran Forsling
Claude-Achille DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune (1890 revised 1905) [4.22]
La Fille aux cheveux de lin (1910) [2.22]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Liebeslied (1905) [3.12]
Schön Rosmarin (1905) [1.56]
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Fantaisie (1911) [7.29]
Maria Theresia von PARADIS (1759-1824) (attrib.)
Sicilienne [2.30]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Sicilienne op.78 (1893/1898) [3.19]
Après un rêve op.7 no.1 (1877) [3.11]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Lied ohne Worte op.38 no.2 (1836) [2.21]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Träumerei op.15 no.7 [2.14]
Franz LISZT (1811-86)
Liebestraum no.3, S541 (1843-50) [4.33]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97)
Hungarian Dance no.1 (1868) [3.05]
Camille SAINT-SÄENS (1835-1921)
Le Cygne (1886) [3.05]
César FRANCK (1822-90)
Sonata M8 (1886) [26.43]

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