The Lyrical Clarinet, Vol. 3
Works by Debussy, Kreisler, Gaubert, Paradis, Fauré, Mendelssohn, R Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Saint-Saëns and Franck
Michael Collins (clarinet), Michael McHale (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20147 70.07 mins
Outside the string and piano repertoire, leading instrumentalists need to keep unearthing new material to build programmes – which for a clarinettist, for instance, has to mean converting this from other genres. Sure enough, most of the music here has been arranged by Michael McHale, and the sequence concludes with by far the largest item, Michael Collins’s own version of Franck’s Violin Sonata. Delivered by both artists with much panache, this handsome masterwork has an innately mellifluous quality which suits the clarinet well (though I’m not too sure about Collins’s bizarre choice of a fortissimo flutter-tonguing effect near the second movement’s close – whatever the intention, the instrument sounds as if it’s being momentarily strangled.
The opening number, Debussy’s evergreen ‘Clair de lune’, spotlights one of the problems of trying to prevent an arrangement from sounding too monotone – the clarinet’s melodic line here sounds more convincing when doubling the piano’s an octave apart, rather than in unison – but the musical mood is beautifully conveyed nonetheless. Other items transfer to the clarinet more naturally, like Saint-Saëns’s ‘The Swan’ (poised, wonderful line here from Collins) and Fauré’s song ‘Après un rêve’; and if at times McHale’s accompanying sounds a shade over-weighted, the upside comes in Liebesträume No. 3, where his contribution has a rapturous sweep that’s authentically Lisztian. The one original work is Philippe Gaubert’s Fantaisie, written in 1911 (like Debussy’s Première rapsodie a year earlier) as a Paris Conservatoire test piece, with a virtuoso finish that Collins brings off in spectacular style.