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A Clarinet in America

Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet); English Chamber Orchestra/Chris Hopkins (piano) (Orchid Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
ORC100155_Copland

A Clarinet in America
Bernstein: Clarinet Sonata; Copland: Clarinet Concerto; Violin Sonata (arr. clarinet); Rózsa: Sonatina for Clarinet Solo
Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet); English Chamber Orchestra/Chris Hopkins (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC100155   56:44 mins

So what does a clarinet get up to in America? It varies. In the Copland concerto, with its wide-open harmonies and long lingering lines, the instrument conjures up the Big Sky states and rolling plains, with a jazzy barn dance to follow. In Bernstein’s Sonata, an early piece of 1941, the clarinet embarks on a whirlwind tour of Latin America, downtown Manhattan and a music class taught by Hindemith. With Miklós Rózsa’s Solo Sonatina, the musical flavour is more abstract and faceless, yet lightly sprinkled with distinctive Hungarian paprika. Welcome to America, the melting pot.

Given all these colours and moods, it’s a particular regret that the American clarinettist Alexander Fiterstein mutes their impact with playing lacking much personality. Technically there is plenty to admire: in the Copland alone, there’s the smooth beauty of his liquid flow, plus peerless breath control, and a strong alliance with conductor Chris Hopkins and the English Chamber Orchestra, seen at its best in the speed changes of the final coda – usually something of a danger spot. Yet once the music turns more animated or heartfelt, Fiterstein often seems too well-behaved and cautious, no matter how Cuban the rhythms get in Bernstein’s endearingly mercurial sonata, or how much tenderness is laid bare in the slow movement of the Copland sonata, adapted in 1980 from his Violin Sonata of the early 1940s. The recording is decent rather than outstanding, and Hopkins’s credit as Fitertsein’s piano partner is missing from the album booklet.

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Geoff Brown