Penderecki: Sinfonietta No. 2; Flute Concerto; Viola Concerto (transcr. for clarinet)

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
LABELS: Arion
WORKS: Sinfonietta No. 2; Flute Concerto; Viola Concerto (transcr. for clarinet)
PERFORMER: Michel Lethiec (clarinet); Camerata of St Petersburg/Krzysztof Penderecki, Emmanuel Leducq-Barôme
CATALOGUE NO: ARN 68541
None of these three ‘clarinet concertos’ by Penderecki started out life as such. The Sinfonietta No. 2 is a reworking of the Quartet for clarinet and strings, while the two other concertos are transcriptions of the viola and flute concertos. The last of these is the most rewarding work, and the clarinet works well as soloist, especially at the outset. Nonetheless, the flute original (available on an excellent Naxos disc) is ultimately a shade more gratifying, especially in the central Allegro con brio section. By contrast, the Sinfonietta No. 2 is more effective than its chamber original, with the delicate conclusion being particularly effective. The work initially seems admirable, but ultimately adds up to less than the sum of its parts, becoming less absorbing on each airing.

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The Viola Concerto (available on ECM) has almost become a classic of the instrument’s repertoire. An angst-ridden work, it does not transfer well. Passages infused with an inherent sense of pathos on viola become merely flaccid meanderings on clarinet. Michel Lethiec may not be the ideal advocate, doing little to inspire the listener’s affection. The suspicion, though, is that Penderecki made the transcription because he could rather than because he should. Tedium results. Christopher Dingle