BRITISH CLARINET SONATAS, VOLUME 2
Michael Collins (cl); Michael McHale (pn)
CHANDOS 10758 (69:56)
Le Tombeau de Ravel.
Just a year ago, in reviewing Michael Collins’s Volume 1 along with another recording of English clarinet sonatas, I wrote regarding the sonatinas by Malcolm Arnold and Joseph Horovitz, “go with [Ronald] van Spaendonck or wait for Collins.” Well, here are Collins’s versions of these two, along with compositions by Arnold Cooke (1906–2005), Edward Gregson (b. 1945), and Arthur Benjamin (1893–1960). The five works share a common lineage: The Arnold Sonatina was written for Frederick Thurston, the great English clarinetist who was Principal of the BBC Symphony and later the Philharmonia Orchestra; Benjamin’s
Le Tombeau de Ravel
, also written for Thurston, was premiered by his student Gervase de Peyer, for whom Horovitz’s Sonatina was written. Arnold Cooke wrote his Sonata in 1959 for another Thurston student, Thea King, and Gregson’s
was premiered in 2010 by Collins, a student of King.
The Arnold and Horovitz sonatinas pop up occasionally on disc. The former, premiered in 1951 by Colin Davis, is impudent and a bit jazzy, with a lyrical middle movement; the latter is no less attractive for being awfully old-fashioned for 1981; it too has a jazzy finale. I marginally prefer von Spaendonck in these two works; his tempos are a bit more leisurely than Collins’s and his tone a bit more refined. The Benjamin, an
written along the lines of the
Valses nobles et sentimentales
, is a rarity, but was recorded a few years ago by Collins’s own student Anna Hashimoto, and in this showpiece she actually outdoes her teacher in pure clarinetistry. Arnold Cooke studied with Hindemith, and the master’s influence can be heard as early as the opening measures of Cooke’s sonata, which, moreover, seems to be modeled after Hindemith’s own contribution to the genre: it’s in B♭, with a second-movement
and a slow third movement. Thea King recorded the piece; I haven’t heard her version, but in general I prefer Collins’s playing to hers. This is the first recording of the Gregson, which wades into the treacherous waters of stylistic imitation in evoking the musical worlds of five 20th-century composers (Poulenc, Gerald Finzi, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and Bartók). The last, inscribed to Collins, partakes of the musical world of the first and third movements of
and the arrangements of Eastern-European folk dances. It, like the Benjamin, is a technical
tour de force
, which Collins dispatches easily.
Indeed, there’s no denying that Collins is a master of his instrument; his technique is faultless. His sound is a bit bright, however, and his music-making unsubtle, at least in this program. Chandos is running the risk of overexposing him: This is, by my count, their seventh CD with the clarinetist in a little over two years. The present CD will be of greatest interest to Collins’s fans and to collectors of clarinet repertoire, particularly for the Cooke and Gregson contributions. You be the judge.
Richard A. Kaplan