COMPOSERS: Arnold Cooke,Benjamin Britten,Gerald Finzi,William Mathias
ALBUM TITLE: ritish Clarinet Concertos, Vol. 2
WORKS: Works by Britten, Mathias, Finzi and Cooke
PERFORMER: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Michael Collins (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHAN 10891
It’s no surprise that the solo playing here is phenomenal: Michael Collins’s skills have been a welcome presence on the classical scene for decades now. His way of conjuring moments of mesmerising stillness, among all the virtuoso fireworks, is enough in itself to lift the appeal of this release way beyond the collectors’ completism suggested by the clunking title. And then there’s the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s response – ultra-vivid from start to finish, revealing a level of musicianship in Collins’s direction that makes things happen around him in a way that plenty of conductors would struggle to match. And every tiny detail is captured in stellar recorded sound.
The works themselves, too, provide their own recommendation. Britten’s Movements for a Clarinet Concerto has been brilliantly assembled and orchestrated by Colin Matthews, with arrangements of a two-piano Mazurka elegiaca and part of a drafted Sonata for Orchestra added to the live-wire opening movement (written in America for Benny Goodman and then shelved); all the music dates from the early 1940s. The result is a sparklingly fine addition to the repertory, with the first movement’s main idea deftly grafted onto the finale’s close. Finzi’s Five Bagatelles, arranged by Lawrence Ashmore from the clarinet-and-piano original, is a more individual creation than Cooke’s or Mathias’s Concertos. Both of these conform overmuch to convention in the all-purpose breeziness of their outer movements – whereas the central ‘Lento espressivo’ of Mathias’s work, especially, shows a much more searching musical imagination at work.