Sonata pian’ e forte [symphonic transcription by Stokowski]
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 15 March, 2011
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
John Corigliano has forged an enviable career for himself and has received many prestigious commissions, not least, in the case of the Clarinet Concerto, from the New York Philharmonic for Stanley Drucker. In the usual three movements it starts with one called ‘Cadenzas’, which certainly shows the soloist in a virtuoso showcase, but fails to deliver anything of real musical value. The finale is a wild ‘Toccata’, which is more hot air than hot licks. The middle ‘Elegy’, however, is a restrained meditation, dedicated to the composer’s father (also John, one-time Concertmaster of the NY Phil), and in its poise and restraint – the music gained from a total lack of the over-large, percussion section – Corigliano found a deep emotional vein. Michael Collins played like a man possessed, but I wonder if it was all worth it.
Corigliano ends his work with a sonorous statement of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata pian’ e forte. It was Stokowski’s version of that work which opened the concert. Re–arranged for two groups of woodwind and one of brass it proved to be a fascinating experience, especially in the use of cor anglais, which sounded out of place in this music. In the big space of St John’s it made a splendid sound.
Copland’s Third Symphony brings together both the popular and serious sides of his compositional character. The opening movement was well handled by Robin O’Neill, who held the various episodes together very well, building satisfying climaxes and showing a sure knowledge of the progression of the music. The slow third movement was equally fine, with a beautifully balanced middle dance section. However, there were problems with the scherzo and the finale, both being slightly too fast to allow for clear articulation. Also, the trio wasn’t sufficiently contrasted and the delightful folksy element of the theme was lost, while in the middle of the last movement the interplay of metre was unclear. These points aside this was a very intelligent interpretation and O’Neill made a very persuasive case for this somewhat neglected work. Despite being pushed slightly too hard, particularly in the Copland, the Salomon Orchestra gave very committed performances, particularly enjoying the freedom Corigliano gives them, and brought all the music vividly to life.