Corigliano Clarinet Concerto; Saariaho Orion
Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto, full to bursting with antiphony and visual spectacle, might best survive the transition to CD in a live recording. And what better communal ritual than the Proms? The RAH acoustic seems to minimise aural spotlighting, so Michael Collins can assume a role within the orchestra as needed. The BBC engineers give even the biggest orchestral onslaughts a nice transparency and bloom, and Leonard Slatkin and Collins unearth musical and timbral details unnoticed by either Richard Stoltzman (RCA) or Stanley Drucker with Mehta (New World, 5/88R). In Slatkin and Collins’s hands, the Elegy – Corigliano writing simply for perhaps the last time? – has a poise and sense of shape that fairly take the breath away.
On the all-Corigliano disc, To Music and the Fantasia spring parasitically yet freely from Schubert and Beethoven respectively. At times I came away thinking Eri Klas and his orchestra might be too vibrant here, at least compared to Slatkin’s more centred and poignant account of the Fantasia (RCA, 11/96). The Tampere group can sometimes sound a bit over-extended but you’ll want the Ondine disc for its two world premieres. The first, Phantasmagoria, is a 22-minute summation of Corigliano’s hit opera Ghosts of Versailles. His colouristic surrealism reaches a peak in the second Altered States Hallucination, where a Hammond organ and an out-of-tune piano collaborate in Rock of Ages.
The two couplings on the Warner disc are more incorrigibly modernist but no less imaginative. Going from the American composer to Zhou Long’s quite short and fairly severe The Immortal (2004), the sharpened sense of musical concentration can be startling. Saariaho’s Orion (2002) is more elemental but never over-scored. Some might find this music stand-offish but Saariaho’s second movement, with its pedal tones and delicate, slowly shifting sonorities, gives that rare sense of a composer knowing exactly where she wants to go and how to get there. A great disc, all told.