Brahms, Poulenc, Schumann, Milhaud, Stravinsky

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Milhaud,Poulenc,Schumann,Stravinsky
LABELS: Ongaku
ALBUM TITLE: Collections
WORKS: Sonata in E flat, Op. 120/2; Sonata; Phantasiestücke, Op. 73; Sonatina; Three Pieces
PERFORMER: Jonathan Cohler (clarinet), Randall Hodgkinson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 024-102 DDD (distr. Quantum Audio)
Widely differing aspects of the clarinet emerge in these recordings. Cohler presents a balanced programme of masterworks, while Langdon-Davies concentrates on showpieces and the Mühlfeld Ensemble on recent compositions.

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The Mühlfeld disc features several pieces which these artists have commissioned for their combination of clarinet, cello and piano. The resulting performances are never dull, but this often challenging music is best experienced work by work rather than as a sequence. The pieces are all interesting, those by Anthony Powers and Elisabeth Lutyens particularly so, revealing a close understanding of the clarinet’s capabilities, and brilliantly played by Victoria Soames.

Despite the title ‘French Masterpieces’, the Langdon-Davies recital contains music from other countries too. It is generously filled with virtuoso showpieces and sundry arrangements of non-clarinet originals and is therefore best heard in fragments rather than as a whole, especially since the recording is aggressively close and the effect becomes wearing. The Poulenc Sonata is by far the most satisfying of the items included; otherwise an hour of encores seems too much of a good thing.

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Much more rewarding is Jonathan Cohler’s disc, in which the well-chosen sequence contains music of real stature, which is performed with a gloriously mellow tone and an ideal recorded balance. The most substantial work, the Brahms E flat Sonata, is especially fine, capturing perfectly the tone of the master’s later style and setting a standard of performance which is maintained throughout. And rarely can Schumann’s beautiful Fantasy Pieces have been recorded to better effect. Terry Barfoot