British Clarinet Concertos

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Stanford; Finzi; Arnold
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: British Clarinet Concertos
WORKS: Stanford: Clarinet Concerto; Finzi: Clarinet Concerto; Arnold: Clarinet Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Michael Collins (clarinet/conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN10739

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This disc is certainly a superb showcase for Michael Collins’s talents, in British repertoire that may be less-than-familiar but still eminently worth hearing. The performance of Stanford’s 1902 Concerto – almost an appendix to Brahms’s late clarinet works, and written for the same clarinettist, Richard Mühlfeld – is easily the equal of Thea King’s excellent account for Hyperion; while I doubt if I’ve heard a finer version of Finzi’s 1949 Concerto. The rapt, elegiac intensity of the performance of this work’s slow movement, which displays Collins’s tone at its most silken, even spectral, is worth the price of the disc in itself.

The joker in the pack is Arnold’s Concerto No. 2, written in 1974 for Benny Goodman (apparently, when Goodman rang to commission the work Arnold thought it was a practical joke!). For the scrappy little first movement Arnold left it up to Goodman to improvise a cadenza, but Collins plays a brilliant one by Richard Rodney Bennett which includes sidelong references to both Für Elise and Rhapsody in Blue; the slow movement  by contrast is a bittersweet gem, and the finale is a manic, very silly little ragtime that allows Collins to let his hair down.

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Calum MacDonald