French clarinet exports - Béatrice Berne and Jean-Marc Fessard: CD
I cheer up every time a Clarinet & Saxophone Classics puts out a new release. The label’s output is unashamedly specialised, and it’s reassuring that such niche pursuits are still going on.
Here is a CD that takes niche to a new level – and I love it. It’s a collection of contemporary clarinet duets, all by French composers, featuring the E flat and bass as well as the standard B flat. We’re not talking educational material here. Many of the pieces are fairly off the wall, while others are poignant and lyrical, and it’s delightful to discover that such range and experimentation exists within the subcategory of the French contemporary clarinet duet. Even better, none of the pieces predates 2012.
Clarinettists Berne and Fessard, who must be responsible for commissioning much of this material, are very evenly matched as players – smooth-toned and technically immaculate, including extended techniques – and it is impossible to tell who is playing when. This doesn’t matter. What we are listening to is a strange, exotic, two-headed animal, not two separate performers. The eight featured works comprise 27 movements, from Philippe Hersant’s 10 Duos to three single-movement efforts.
Highlights include Christine Menneson’s Infinite Breathing 5, a three-movement piece that begins on slow, monumental bass clarinets before shifting to slithering, chromatic clarinets for the second movement. Its third movement uses one bass and one B flat, tying up the strands of the other two. Guillaume Connesson’s Scenes de la Vie is also very enjoyable, with movements entitled ‘Shopping’, ‘Au musée’, ‘Remise en forme’, ‘Diner amoureux’ and ‘Le cauchemar du DJ’. The music evokes jazz buskers, chanson, reverie and even the pulsating beats of the nightclub – extremely charming. Elsewhere, look out for some nifty E flat playing in Lucien Guerninel’s Humeurs and a lovely title: Bernard Cavanna’s Parking Schubert. Someone should write a memoir called that. All told, this is a beautiful new instalment of the Clarinet & Saxophone Classics catalogue and highly recommended.