review

La Clarinette Parisienne: CD

This review was published on: June 16th 2021
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The following review is taken from the Summer 2021 issue of Clarinet & Saxophone magazine. For more reviews, news, and features from the single-reed world, join to receive our quarterly magazine and other membership benefits.


LA CLARINETTE PARISIENNE
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Noriko Ogawa (piano)
BIS Records

This generous and warm-hearted CD is a superb addition to Michael Collins’ extensive catalogue of solo repertoire recordings. It sets out to make the case for French clarinet music as a ‘challenge’ to the Germanic influences – Mozart, Weber, Brahms – that had previously defined the clarinet as a solo instrument, according to Stephen Johnson’s informative liner notes.

The music presented here ranges in date from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th. It includes four works that were originally written as examination or competition pieces, so we get our fair share of fireworks; but these are works that also have an enduring musical value. They are: Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsody, relatively unshowy for a competition piece and today mostly acknowledged as a masterwork; Messager’s Solo de Concours, a perennial favourite; and showpieces by Widor and Rabaud, lesserknown works that are nonetheless exciting and worthy of inclusion.

We also have sonatas by Saint-Saëns and Poulenc, both works of profundity and a contrast to the frothing virtuosity of some of the pieces already mentioned, plus Poulenc’s angular Sonata for Two Clarinets. The latter gives pianist Noriko Ogawa her one break in the programme, instead showcasing fellow clarinettist Sérgio Pires, who rises well to the challenge of matching Collins. Readers may not know that more than four decades separate these two works by Poulenc. The Sonata for Two Clarinets was written in 1918 when the composer was just 19, while the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano was written in 1962, one year before his death.

The performances throughout are a joy, and the feeling is very much one of live performance rather than a studiously executed recording session. Collins can’t help but play with total abandon, and he has all the technique needed to do so. His tone is light at times and strong at others, blending forthrightness with charm, subtlety and grandeur. Ogawa is a formidable musical partner for Collins, demonstrating mastery of the piano in every way. Really, it is quite impossible to imagine a clarinet and piano recital sounding better.

A highlight is hearing the two works by Poulenc and the whimsical Sonata by Saint-Saëns alongside the Paris Conservatoire showpieces, reminding us that French music is much more multifaceted than the familiar stereotype of pastel colours and impressionism might suggest. In fact, Poulenc is earthy and angry, particularly the earlier work presented here, while Saint-Saëns combines a knowing twinkle with moments of pure beauty.

To conclude, this CD is absolutely recommended, even if you don’t think this music is your cup of tea. It is magnificent to find Collins in such a productive vein, and I eagerly await whatever he is working on next.

Chris Walters

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) cassgb.org. Tel: 01642 769 558

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