Mozart
Clarinet Concerto in A, K622
Copland
Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, with Harp and Piano
Elena Kats-Chernin
Ornamental Air
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Michael Collins (clarinet & basset clarinet)

Recorded 11-16 June 2012 in Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10756
Duration: 66 minutes
Reviewed: February 2013
Mozart’s familiar Clarinet Concerto, played by Michael Collins on the extended, lower-note basset clarinet, receives a lively and expressive performance, with plenty of swing and sentiment. Collins’s range of colour and dynamics delight the ear, and his ornamentation and nimble execution have spontaneity on their side. The members of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra provide vivid and characterful support (despite being a little distantly recorded). With the ‘Out of Africa’ slow movement eloquently turned, this is a fresh and enjoyable performance.
Aaron Copland’s wonderful Clarinet Concerto (1948), written for Benny Goodman, opens with one of those Heaven-sent melodies that touches the heart, almost paralysing the listener in its beauty, the yearning refrains very expressively taken by Collins, the strings of the SCO ebbing much feeling, and a harp plucking notes from the air. Collins has a whale of a time with the pivotal cadenza, a ‘jam’-session stepping-stone to the energised, hip-swinging, sometimes abrasive second movement, a piano adding jazzy intercourse, a double bassist slapping a beat as a madcap wilder and wilder square-dance is unleashed. In recorded terms one would look to Goodman with the composer conducting, and Stanley Drucker with Leonard Bernstein, but certainly Collins and confreres now join such elite company.
The disc is completed by the first recording of Ornamental Air (2007) by Elena Kats-Chernin (a native of Australia), for which Collins returns to the basset clarinet. The first movement is filmic, conjuring a vivid Orientalism; it’s fast and suggestive, the rhythms hypnotic, this is belly-dancing on a large scale, Collins and his musicians letting their hair down and negotiating a roulade of notes with precision and pleasure. This approachable and entertaining music also has a quieter demeanour, certainly much needed after ten minutes of pulsation, for the second movement is both seductive and laidback, not slow but relaxed in its charms, although the fade out seems like a running out of steam. The finale is high-kicking with a ruminative cadenza and even more sprinting in the dash for home during which Collins is amazing.

 

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