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Solo clarinet NA56

XX Century Music for Solo Clarinet
Osvaldo LACERDA (1927-2011)
Melodia [2:29]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet [4:16]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Quatuor pour La Fin du Temps: Abime des Oiseaux [6:51]
John CAGE (1912-1992)
Sonata for Clarinet [3:50]
Claudio SANTORO (1919-1989)
Fantasia sul Americana [2:55]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Fantasy [3:09]
Ronaldo MIRANDA (b.1948)
Ludica I [2:36]
Luciano BERIO (1925-2003)
Sequenza IXa [13:30]
Lied per clarinetto solo [4:34]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Summertime (arr. Luciano) [3:42]
Luca Luciano (clarinet)
rec. 2020, Naples, Italy
Reviewed as a download from a press preview

For many readers, this CD by Luca Luciano will present a glass half full/glass half empty situation: either 48 minutes will seem very short measure or 48 minutes of twentieth century music for solo clarinet will seem quite enough to be getting on with! Fortunately, Luciano is a most agreeable guide and, for all the talk of ‘advanced techniques’ in the accompanying press release, there is nothing on this disc to frighten the horses.

It helps enormously that Luciano makes a really succulent sound even in the more thorny pieces included. He had me thinking of continuities to pieces like the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets rather than discontinuities. In quieter moments, such as the Messiaen or the slow movement of the Cage, Luciano’s playing is full of rapt tenderness. Most of these pieces are digressions from the main work of the composers selected and Luciano does an excellent job of reclaiming them from relative obscurity. I hadn’t previously come across Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet, written in 1918, but I am very glad now to have made the acquaintance of music that seems like off cuts from a piece like The Soldier’s Tale whose composition followed it. Cage’s miniature Sonata was never going to rewrite the history books but it is as delectable as a William Carlos Williams poem.

Never mind pieces I hadn’t heard of before, Luciano also includes some composers I hadn’t heard of – mostly Brazilian. His biography tells me he has had a long term association with the country and it is good to have classical music’s excessive focus on Europe and North America challenged.

Osvaldo Lacerda’s Melodia may have a whiff of the academy about it but it gets things off to an agreeable start. Ludica I by Ronaldo Miranda has rather more in the way of the dance rhythms I might expect from Brazilian music. Luciano makes child’s play of the very taxing high lying writing in this piece without a suggestion of a squeak or a squawk. I found this the pick of the pieces by Brazilian composers, full of agreeably puckish wit. Claudio Santoro’s Fantasia sul Americana I’m sorry to say left me rather cold. I wasn’t convinced that it added up to more than a collection of clarinet techniques.

One name I didn’t expect to see in this company is that of Malcolm Arnold but he more than holds his own. All the qualities one would expect of his music are here in a miniature: easy tunefulness; a dash of devilry; and consummate craftsmanship. I wonder why more clarinetists don’t pick it up.

The two pieces by Berio represent the biggest proportion of this CD and they are probably the most significant music included. This is certainly the case with Sequenza IX. Once again, Luciano seems intent on challenging preconceptions. I doubt I will ever find a performance of this piece that finds so much beauty in it. Even where Berio asks for unusual techniques, Luciano finds a strange loveliness such as the overtones about half way through which sound like the auditory equivalent of a fine dawn mist around the sun. Such recreative imagination is typical of Luciano’s playing throughout this recording.

As an encore, Luciano shows off his jazz chops improvising in flamboyant style on Gershwin’s Summertime. One of the nicest things about this track is the way Luciano is able to relate it to the rest of the music in the programme so we gets hints of Berio and Cage as well as jazz.

This release is a bit like a ‘What next?’ for people who love the clarinet but want to explore a bit wider. Listeners could hardly hope for more persuasive advocacy.

David McDade

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