Mozart • Copland • Kats-Chernin
Can an instrumentalist ever be too technically polished for the music’s good? The question bubbled up in my mind while listening to Michael Collins’s concerto programme, and received the answer ‘Yes’. The limpid tone, the suave progress from note to note: such qualities make the Mozart Concerto’s slow movement glide by in a dream, even with the work played on a modern replica of that historical curio, the basset clarinet. In the Copland Concerto Collins generates sounds equally smooth in the clarinet’s first pensive phrase. No kinks anywhere; but also few emotional markers. Cool perfection, that’s the tendency.
Nasal and oleaginous in its extended lower range, the basset clarinet’s individual colours lend useful character to the Mozart. Less joy comes from the instrument’s use in Elena Kats-Chernin’s Ornamental Air of 2007, written for Collins to be Mozart’s concert companion. Lopsided beats, folksy echoes, jazzy wails, considerable burbling: Collins delivers its many tricks with liquid ease. Throughout, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra prove spirited team players, though the recording’s acoustic rather bottles their sound – the Mozart needs airier textures.
The Copland performance also proves a curate’s egg. The finale needs more rigorous conducting, and steadier orchestral momentum. As for the clarinet, we get subtle phrasings and dynamics, yes; but I’d rather trade a little fine art for the sounds of a soloist living dangerously.