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Le clarinette parisienne

Michael Collins, Sérgio Pires (clarinet), Noriko Ogawa (piano) (BIS)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Le clarinette parisienne
Debussy: Première rhapsodie; Messager: Solo de concours; Saint-Saëns: Clarinet Sonata; Poulenc: Clarinet Sonata; Sonata for Two Clarinets; Rabaud: Solo de concours; Widor: Introduction et Rondo
Michael Collins, Sérgio Pires (clarinet), Noriko Ogawa (piano)
BIS BIS-2497 (CD/SACD)   61:56 mins

The Debussy Rhapsodie and the three sonatas by Saint-Saëns and Poulenc, forming the accepted canon for 20th-century French clarinet music, choose themselves and in so doing constitute a stiff challenge to other claimants. The two Solos de concours by Messager and Rabaud, commissioned as test pieces for the final exams at the Paris Conservatoire in 1899 and 1901 respectively, don’t really amount to a great deal beyond their undoubted technical demands: the instrument’s recognised agility tends to bring with it a number of clichés that quite soon become tiresome to the ear. But Widor’s Introduction et Rondo, composed for the 1898 competition, does so to great effect, including also some fine, lyrical passages which remind us (as I think we need reminding) that this composer shouldn’t be judged simply by the famous ‘Toccata’.

The four canonical pieces need no puffs from me and, like everything else on the disc, are played superbly. Debussy’s Rhapsodieis known to be a killer – as one professional clarinettist said to me, ‘Debussy makes you do all the things you don’t want to.’ One wouldn’t know it from Michael Collins’s flawless account, alive equally to the piece’s serene and waggish moments, while in the Poulenc Sonata for two clarinets he and Sérgio Pires gurgle gloriously. Noriko Ogawa is both self-effacing when required, and unfailingly prompt and sympathetic in support. The excellent recording allows us to savour the duo’s beautiful tone and their wide, and accurate, range of dynamics.

Roger Nichols