Martino, Wellesz, Messiaen, Erland Von Koch, William O Smith, Persichetti, W Osborne & Paganini

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Erland Von Koch,Martino,Messiaen,Persichetti,W Osborne & Paganini,Wellesz,William O Smith
LABELS: Ongaku
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Clarinet Alone
WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du temps; Moto perpetuo
PERFORMER: Jonathan Cohler (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: 024-105
The American clarinettist Jonathan Cohler recorded this solo recital in 1995, hard on the heels of two clarinet-and-piano discs that were well received in these pages and a BBCMusic Magazine cover disc in October 1994; but it has not appeared in Britain until now. It shows Cohler to be a master of his instrument, fluent in fingering, astonishingly agile in quick changes between registers, even in tone from top to bottom, and capable of an extraordinary control of dynamics – as in the long crescendos in the solo movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. He has also mastered the technique of circular breathing, which allows him to play a transcription of Paganini’s Moto perpetuo without pausing for nearly four minutes – to the listener’s discomfort if not his own.

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Such criticisms as I have are concerned less with Cohler’s playing – a few evened-out dynamics apart – than with the recording, made in a Massachusetts church with a rather larger-than-life sound image and a lot of traffic noise, and with the choice of programme. Much of it is quite entertaining – notably the suites by Donald Martino and William O Smith, both clarinettists themselves – but, the Messiaen apart, nothing is truly compelling. Why no Stockhausen, no Berio? Cohler’s undoubted brilliance deserves stronger interpretative challenges. Anthony Burton